EU leaders agree on von der Leyen, Costa, Kallas

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Friday, 28th June 2024.

The 27 leaders of the European Union have agreed on the bloc’s political leadership for the next five years: Ursula von der Leyen as president of the European Commission, António Costa as president of the European Council, and Kaja Kallas as the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Leaders on Thursday also approved the Strategic Agenda – a document described by Euronews as one “with broad brushstrokes of ambitions that is meant to guide the future work of the three appointees,

Von der Leyen and Kallas’s nominations are not final and still require confirmation by the European Parliament. By contrast, Costa, a former prime minister of Portugal, is automatically elected by his former peers. He will take office on December 1.

“I would plain and simply like to express my gratitude to the leaders who endorsed my nomination for a second mandate,” von der Leyen said. “I am very honoured.”

“It is with a strong sense of mission that I will take up the responsibility of being the next President of the European Council,” Costa said, thanking his Socialist family and the Portuguese government for their backing. “I will be fully committed to promoting unity between all 27 member states and focused on putting on track the Strategic Agenda.”
“This is an enormous responsibility at this moment of geopolitical tensions,” Kallas said in a statement, promising to work “with pleasure” with both von der Leyen and Costa. “I will be at the service of our common interests,” she added. “Europe should be a place where people are free, safe and prosperous.”

Party negotiators had preemptively sealed the three-pronged deal during a call on Tuesday and tabled their proposal on Thursday evening. After a debate among all heads of state and government, the accord received the formal blessing.

The talks between the centrist parties had angered those left on the sidelines, most notably Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who lashed out at the “surreal” way in which the top-jobs package was assembled. According to Ansa, she accused European leaders of acting like ‘oligarchs’ after a deal was struck to divide the EU’s top jobs without her. Meloni, who leads the hard-Right Fratelli d’Italia Party, said the deal was a betrayal of the will of the European people.

Meloni said the success of her European Conservatives and Reformists grouping – the EU parliament’s third largest force following this month’s elections – should be reflected in its leadership.

Under the EU’s treaties, the leaders’ choice of candidates should reflect the results of the election, with the posts shared among the winners. Meloni told the Italian parliament: “Some claim citizens are not mature enough to take certain decisions and that oligarchy is the only acceptable form of democracy.”

Polish PM Donald Tusk said that the three groups negotiated “to facilitate the process” and not to ostracise her.
Hungary’s Viktor Orbán was more scathing, calling the deal “shameful”.

Their public grievances contrasted with the apparent coolness of other dignitaries, such as Germany’s Olaf Scholz and France’s Emmanuel Macron, who were intent on wrapping up the process in a swift, uncomplicated manner.
“We are living in difficult times. We are faced with major challenges, not least Russia’s terrible war of aggression against Ukraine. It is therefore important that Europe prepares itself now for the tasks that need to be tackled,” Scholz said upon arrival.

Diplomats in Brussels were concerned that, due to the volatile geopolitical environment surrounding the bloc, the image of leaders haggling over well-paid positions for hours on end would seem out of touch.
These worries, coupled with a lack of credible alternatives, made the negotiations easier and helped positions coalesce around the three names.

“Democracy is not only about blocking, democracy is about who wants to work together, and those three groups are willing to work together to the benefit of all Europeans,” said Belgium’s Alexander De Croo, rebuking Meloni’s criticism. “What we need in the next five years is political stability and being able to act fast.”

In the end, Meloni voted against Costa and Kallas, and abstained on von der Leyen, several diplomats told Euronews, a largely symbolic move to express her displeasure. For his part, Orbán voted against von der Leyen, abstained on Kallas and supported Costa.

Asked about Meloni’s abstention, von der Leyen said it was “important to work well” with Italy “like with all other member states. This is a principle for me which I follow all the time,” she noted.

US Dems in full panic mode after Biden’s stumbling performance

US Democrats are in panic mode following what one of them described as “a disaster”, US President Joe Biden’s performance in the first of two debates with Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.
With his voice hoarse from a cold, Biden, 81, hurried through some of his talking points on the debate stage, stumbled over some answers and trailed off during others. About halfway through the debate, a Democratic strategist who worked on Biden’s 2020 campaign called it a “disaster”.

The Hill reports President Biden and Donald Trump, 78, tangled over the economy, Covid-19 and abortion in the first 20 minutes of the debate, and then it got personal, with insults over who is the worst president and who is a criminal. And then, their golf games

When it was done, political experts expressed grave concerns over Biden’s performance, from his demeanor to how he opened himself up to attacks from Trump. Democrats responded with panic, some even suggesting they should go to the White House today to ask the president to step aside and forget the election.

If there was one thing Democrats wanted to see from President Biden at Thursday night’s debate, it was strength. They wanted to see Biden pummel former President Trump on the January 6 insurrection, on overturning Roe v. Wade. They wanted him to knock Trump down with the “convicted felon” moniker.

Instead, most Democrats acknowledged Thursday, it was Biden who was knocked down.

His voice was hoarse. His lips quivered. After the debate began, the White House said he had a cold. He tripped over his words. At times he veered off topic and in the wrong direction. During one moment, Biden declared, “We finally beat Medicare,” and went off course about earned benefits.

Biden and Trump were, respectively, the oldest and second-oldest presidents to ever be elected. Both of them were questioned about their fitness to be president for the next four years.

Biden said he had entered Congress as one of the youngest senators ever. He went on to tout a list of his achievements as president and noted that Trump is only “three years younger”.

In his retort, Trump claimed to have easily passed cognitive tests and challenged Biden to do the same.
He also bragged about his golfing prowess and said he’s in as good a shape as he was 25 years ago and perhaps “even a little bit lighter”.

“This is an honest to God nightmare,” said one Biden ally. “I can’t believe what I’m watching. I am watching us lose this election in slow motion.”

Another Democratic strategist put it this way: “Political suicide.”

Not only did Biden not hold Trump accountable, Democrats acknowledged, but Biden stood by and watched as Trump spouted untruths on abortion and the Covid-19 pandemic. And when Trump continued to slam Biden as “the worst president in the history of our country,” Biden looked back “almost bewildered,” as one Democrat put it.
“There are no two ways about it. That was not a good debate for Joe Biden,” Kate Bedingfield, who served as Biden’s longtime communications aide, said on CNN following the debate.

“It’s the one night that confirmed people’s fears,” David Axelrod, who served as a senior adviser, said on the same CNN panel.

As the debate wore on Democrats grew increasingly anxious – some wondering if it was too late for Biden to drop out. They had thoughts about other candidates, too. “There’s been a lot of chatter in our circles about Newsom,” one Democratic strategist said about California Governor Gavin Newsom.

One House Democratic member from a swing state put it this way: “This was a disaster. Biden’s team needs to convince him to withdraw and have an open convention.”

One Democratic donor was also incensed after watching the debate. “We need to have a real discussion about how this is going,” he said. “We can’t pussyfoot around this discussion of age anymore. We have to get serious. There is so much on the line here and what the f‑‑‑ are we doing?”

During the debate, Biden did try to hit back at Trump at times. “You are a child,” he said at one point. And during another moment, he called Trump out on his weight. He also called him a sore loser, pointing to the former president’s loss in 2020. “You can’t stand loss,” Biden said. “Something snapped in you when you lost last time.”
One longtime Biden ally said the president had gotten “a little better” as the night went on. “Trump’s relationship with the truth is really something.”

There was also plenty of frustration with CNN moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, who did little to fact-check Trump in real time.

But mostly, Democrats were incensed and worried about the coming weeks. After the debate, Biden appeared at a watch party alongside first lady Jill Biden. And some Democrats were anxious for Biden to move forward.

On Friday afternoon, the president will hold a campaign event in North Carolina, before heading to three separate fundraisers this weekend in New York and New Jersey.

For now, they desperately want to forget this night happened. “We lost tonight,” one Democrat said, referring to the race, not the debate.

The stakes were high for both men. Trump holds a narrow lead over Biden nationally at 45 per cent to 44 per cent, according to a Decision Desk HQ/The Hill aggregate of polls.

Social media reacted to the 90-minute debate with a mixture of horror and humour.

Bishop issues warning over ‘deep corruption’ in Vatican

A conservative bishop who was removed from his position by Pope Francis last year has accused the Vatican of “deep corruption”. “There will be no peace in the Catholic Church until the McCarrick scandal is fully exposed along with all the corrupt prelates who are connected to it,” Joseph Strickland wrote on X.

“The smoke & mirrors billowing out of the Vatican are just efforts to hide the deep corruption. Pray & cling to Jesus & His Church.” Strickland declined to provide further comment when contacted by Newsweek. The Vatican has been contacted for comment via email.

One of the pope’s most vocal critics among US Catholic conservatives, Strickland was dismissed from his position as the bishop of Tyler, Texas, in 2023.

Netanyahu halts cabinet as Smotrich pushes to legalise West Bank outpost

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped a security cabinet meeting amid a dispute with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is urging the forum to legalise the West Bank outpost of Evyatar, multiple Hebrew media outlets report.

Smotrich, who is determined to legalise the outpost, is told during the discussion that such a move would lead to a clash with Washington, the reports say.

As cabinet ministers wait for the forum to resume, Netanyahu, Smotrich and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer discuss the issue in a separate room, according to the reports.

Times of Israel reports Smotrich was also said to have proposed several measures to punish the Palestinian Authority for its international legal efforts against Israel, including canceling VIP entry permits for senior PA officials, preventing senior PA officials involved in the efforts from leaving the country, harming the interests of PA businessmen and enforcing measures against illegal construction.

‘US ship ready to evacuate Americans in Lebanon’

The Pentagon is positioning itself to be ready to evacuate Americans from Lebanon if fighting between Israel and Hezbollah escalates, according to NBC reports. It quotes sources, according to which the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp and the Marines of the 24th Expeditionary Unit, capable of carrying out special operations, have moved to the Mediterranean.

Slovakia: 5 dead, 5 injured in train-bus collision

Five people were killed and five injured in a collision between a passenger train and a bus at a level crossing in southern Slovakia, the Slovak rescue service reported on Facebook. The accident occurred shortly after 5pm local near the southwestern town of Nove Zamky, the CTK news agency reported.

The injured “required immediate medical assistance,” said Petra Klimesova, spokeswoman for the rescue services. “I fear that the number of deaths in this accident may increase,” she added.

The level crossing where the collision occurred is protected by barriers and equipped with light signals. Local media published videos of passengers carrying luggage next to a partially-burnt train, while thick gray smoke rose into the sky.

Football: Copa America results: Group B: Ecuador v Jamaica 3-1, Venezuela v. Mexico 1-0; Group C: Panama v. USA 2-1; Uruiguay v. Bolivia 5-0. Tonigħt’s programme: Group D: Columbia v. Costa Rica (12 midnight Malta time) and Paraguay v. Brazil (3am). UEFA EURO2024 programme continues tomorrow with the Round of 16, when Switzerland faces Italy (6pm) and Germany plays against Denmark (9pm).

Photo: AFP

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