EU migration reform faces tight vote as divisions deepen

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 10th April 2024.

The European Union’s make-or-break attempt to reform its migration and asylum policy faces a tight vote in the European Parlament this afternoon in a plenary session that will see MEPs go through a list of complex, interlinked pieces of legislation. All eyes will be on the five laws that make up the so-called ‘New Pact on Migration and Asylum’, the comprehensive overhaul that seeks to turn the page on almost 10 years of go-it-alone reactions and instead establish common and predictable rules to manage the reception and relocation of asylum seekers. First presented in September 2020, the New Pact has gone through many ups and downs, including periods of impasse that made it seem the legislation would never reach the finishing line. Things changed last year as the issue returned to the top of the agenda, leading to a provisional agreement in December between the Parliament and the Council, despite their notable differences. This breakthrough compromise still needs the final green light from each institution before its enactment into law. Time, however, is running short: the upcoming elections to the Parliament mean April is the last chance for MEPs to endorse the New Pact.

Half of Europeans disapprove of EU migration policy

Europeans give a thumbs down to the European Union’s efforts to control irregular migration and demand stronger border controls. This is one of the eye-catching takeaways from an exclusive Euronews poll conducted by Ipsos among almost 26,000 respondents across 18 member states ahead of the elections to the European Parliament, which will be held between June 6 and 9. The first-of-its-kind survey shows that 51 per cent of Europeans have a “negative” assessment of the bloc’s impact on migration policy, while only 16 per cent have a “positive” view. Meanwhile, 32 per cent say the impact has been “neither positive nor negative”. The trend cuts through genders, age groups and occupations, and is consistent in most countries, where the negative side clearly outweighs the other two segments. France (62 per cent), Austria (60 per cent) and Hungary (58 per cent) are the most critical nations.

Fitch cuts China outlook to ‘negative’

Fitch has revised its outlook on China’s sovereign rating to ‘negative’ due to risks related to public finances as the economy grapples with greater uncertainties as it transitions to new growth models amid the real estate crisis. The rating agency estimates that the public deficit should rise to 7.1 per cent of GDP in 2024 (from 5.8 per cent in 2023), to the highest level since 8.6 per cent in 2020, fueled by strict anti-Covid measures. Despite having revised the outlook downwards, therefore indicating that a downgrade is possible in the medium term, Fitch kept China’s IDR rating at ‘A+’.

France, Jordan, Egypt leaders call for Gaza ceasefire

French President Emmanuel Macron, his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Jordan’s King Abdullah have called for an immediate Gaza cease-fire in a joint article for The Washington Post. “The war in Gaza and the catastrophic humanitarian suffering it is causing must end now,” the three leaders wrote. “We underline the urgent need to bring about a permanent cease-fire in Gaza,” they continued, saying that “violence, terror and war cannot bring peace to the Middle East”. The leaders argued that a two-state solution, which foresees the peaceful coexistence of Israel and a Palestinian state based on the borders of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, is “the only credible path to guaranteeing peace and security for all and ensuring that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis ever have to relive the horrors that have befallen them since the October 7 attack”. Last month, a United Nations-backed report warned that famine was looming in northern Gaza, where several hundred thousand Palestinians remain. The US says that 100 per cent of Gazans are suffering from acute food insecurity as the humanitarian operation has collapsed amid the fighting. Macron, el-Sissi and Abdullah therefore demanded the “immediate and unconditional implementation” of UN Security Council Resolution 2728 which called for an “immediate cease-fire” on March 25.

Germany defends support for Israel against accusations of genocide

Germany has hit back at allegations by Nicaragua that it has been “facilitating genocide” in Gaza, telling an international court on Tuesday that history undergirds German support for Israel. Addressing the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Germany’s lawyer Tania von Uslar-Gleichen said Berlin “firmly rejects Nicaragua’s accusations.” She called the case “grossly biased”. Nicaragua has accused Germany of violating its obligations as a signatory of the Genocide Convention through its political, financial and military support for Israel as its military campaign continues in Gaza, and by suspending funding to the main UN humanitarian agency in Gaza, UNRWA. Nicaraguan Ambassador to the Netherlands Carlos Jose Arguello Gomez told the world court that his government had taken the case “on behalf of the Palestinian people” who are “being subjected to one of the most destructive military actions in modern history”. Israel is not a party to the case brought by Nicaragua and will not appear at the ICJ for it.

US says ‘no evidence’ of Israeli genocide in Gaza

United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday rejected accusations that Israel is perpetrating genocide in Gaza, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken blasted the international community for failing to hold Hamas to account, even as both officials said Israel needed to ensure sustainable improvements to the humanitarian situation in the enclave. “We don’t have any evidence of genocide being created,” Austin said in testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee regarding US President Joe Biden’s latest budget request. The remark came a day after footage of Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren claiming there was “ample evidence” to find Israel guilty of genocide in the International Court of Justice was published on social media.  Austin’s comments came during a session that was interrupted several times by far-left protesters shouting at him to stop sending weapons to Israel. “Stop the genocide!” they said, as they lifted their hands, stained in red, in the air.

9 countries in largest aid drop into Gaza since war began

Nine countries have taken part in the largest international aid airdrop in a single day into Gaza since the conflict began. Led by the Jordanian Armed Forces and coinciding with Eid al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan, hundreds of tonnes of resources were delivered into the war-torn enclave. The US, UK, Germany, France, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, the Netherlands and Egypt also took part. On Tuesday more than 10 tonnes of aid, including ready-to-eat meals, water and rice, were airdropped along the northern coastline of Gaza. An RAF plane flew an hour from Amman to carry out the airdrop, with other countries’ aircraft dropping aid throughout the course of the day.

Top Swiss party demands Council of Europe pullout after climate ruling

Switzerland’s biggest political party demanded a withdrawal from the Council of Europe after the continent’s top rights court ruled that the country was not doing enough to tackle climate change. The hard-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) slammed the verdict, calling the decision by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg “scandalous”. “Switzerland must withdraw from the Council of Europe,” the SVP said in a statement, adding that the court’s job was to “dispense justice and not make policy”. The SVP comfortably topped the Swiss general elections in October but holds just two of the seven seats in the power-sharing government, and is often at odds with its coalition partners. The Swiss Federal Office of Justice said it had taken note of the verdict and would consider what actions it required. The ECHR found that the Swiss state had failed to guarantee the “right to respect for private and family life”. The historic decision could force governments to adopt more ambitious climate policies. Courts in Australia, Brazil, Peru and South Korea are considering similar human rights-based climate cases.

Italy dam blast leaves three dead, five injured and four missing

At least three people were killed after an explosion at a hydroelectric power plant in central Italy. Local mayor of the nearby town of Camugnano, Marco Masinara, said three dead bodies had been found and four were missing.  Five others were taken to hospital, three of whom were “badly hurt”. He added that the figures were “being continously updated”. Firefighters were searching for missing people after the explosion in the early afternoon. It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion at the dam on Lake Suviana, which is located between the cities of Bologna and Florence, and managed by the energy company Enel.  Masinara said the explosion happened nine levels below ground during work on turbines. The dam operator said that the dam basin had not been damaged and that the plant was offline at the time of the incident so there was no impact on electricity supply. Lake Suviana is located in a regional park in the Apennines at an altitude of just under 500 metres. It was formed by the construction of the dam in 1928 and 1932.

Fire in Hong Kong’s busy Kowloon kills five

A fire in a residential building in Hong Kong’s bustling Kowloon district disrupted morning rush hour traffic today, authorities said, in a rare incident in the global financial hub that killed five people and injured more than a dozen. People inside the building waved towels at windows to signal for rescue, broadcaster RTHK said, adding that the fire had started at a gym there. Some surrounding roads had to be sealed off. The blaze, rated three in the city’s five-grade system, was doused by 8.54am (2am in Malta), an hour after fire services were alerted to the fire in Jordan, an area teeming with homes and offices across the harbour from the city’s financial centre. At least six of the injured were in serious condition, the hospital authority said, with one critical.

28 countries support Rutte’s candidacy for NATO Secretary General

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has garnered support from 28 out of 32 NATO member countries to become the alliance’s new Secretary-General. This means that four more countries need to be brought on board, as the candidacy requires unanimous support from all 32 member states. In the coming days, foreign ministers of NATO countries will be in Brussels, where discussions on the successor to Jens Stoltenberg, who is stepping down from his post at the beginning of October, will take place on the sidelines of the summit. Romania has its own candidate. Turkey and Hungary have not yet announced their support for Rutte. They will ease their opposition to Rutte if Romanian President Klaus Iohannis withdraws his candidacy, NATO circles say. Until this happens, Hungarians and Slovaks will awkwardly reject Iohannis, the only official candidate from another Eastern European country. Slovakia is named as the fourth country causing doubts. Sources within NATO report that Rutte is negotiating with these four countries regarding his vision for leadership.

Parents of school shooter sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison

The parents of the teenager who killed four students in the 2021 school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, were each sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison Tuesday, weeks after being convicted of manslaughter. James and Jennifer Crumbley, who each had faced up to 15 years in prison, have already been imprisoned for more than two years since their arrest in a Detroit warehouse days after the shooting. Though they were tried separately, their sentencing took place together in an Oakland County courtroom. They are the first parents to be held criminally responsible for a mass school shooting committed by their child as the nation continues to grapple with the scourge of gunfire on campus and mass shootings.

FAA investigating claims Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is flawed

The Federal Aviation Authority says it’s investigating Boeing after a whistleblower repeatedly raised concerns with two wide-body jet models, and claimed the company retaliated against him. CNN reports whistleblower Sam Salehpour, a Boeing engineer, alleged that Boeing took shortcuts when manufacturing its 777 and 787 Dreamliner jets, and that the risks could become catastrophic as the airplanes age. The New York Times was first to report the whistleblower’s complaint, filed in January and made public on Tuesday. It is not specific to the newer 737 Max jet that has been grounded twice by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA has interviewed Salehpour as part of its investigation. The FAA said it investigates all whistleblower complaints. A US Senate subcommittee will also take up the concerns at a hearing next week.

US transfers seized Iranian armaments to Ukraine

The US transferred thousands of machine guns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition seized from Iran to Ukraine last week, US Central Command announced on Tuesday. Ukraine has been suffering from shortages of weapons and munitions on the battlefield in its war against Russia, with the US unable to send more equipment from its own stockpiles until more funding is approved by Congress. The material transferred to Ukraine is enough to equip one Ukrainian brigade of around 4,000 personnel with small-arms rifles.

Advertising spot where chips substitute Holy host stopped

The Italian Institute of Advertising Self-Discipline has stopped the diffusion of the Amica Chips commercial, in which a chip is substituted for the Holy host during a religious function. The Institute has ordered the parties involved to desist from the diffusion of the campaign considering it to be in conflict with moral, civil, religious beliefs and dignity of the person.

The advertising campaign, set in a convent and with the musical background of Schubert’s Ave Maria, shows a group of novice nuns heading towards the altar of the church to take communion. As soon as the first novice in line receives from the priest the Holy host (in the web version a chip) a loud crack is heard, echoing in the church. Surprised and embarrassed at being the cause of that unexpected emission, the novice turns towards the sacristy where another nun is munching on the crunchy chips advertised, taking them from the bag. The video ends with images of the product and the claim ‘Amica chips the divine daily’.

Renee Zellweger and Hugh Grant return for new Bridget Jones film

Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson are set to reprise their roles in the fourth instalment of Bridget Jones. The romantic comedy titled ‘Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy’ will see ‘One Day’ actor Leo Woodall and ‘12 Years A Slave’ star Chiwetel Ejiofor join the cast of the sequel, set for release on Valentine’s Day 2025. Two-time Oscar winner Zellweger will reprise her beloved role as Bridget, while Grant will return as rapscallion Daniel Cleaver and Thompson, who starred in the third instalment as Bridget’s despairing obstetrician, also returns. British author Helen Fielding previously said she had decided to write Bridget’s love interest Mark Darcy, played by Oscar winner Colin Firth, out of the third book in the popular series because she didn’t want Bridget to become “a smug married”. In the book titled ‘Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy’, Bridget is a widow in her 50s with two children, as it is revealed Mark has died some years earlier – although it is not clear what plot the film will take. Firth reprised his role in the third film in the franchise titled ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’, which saw his character competing with billionaire US love guru Jack Qwant, played by Patrick Dempsey, for the attention of Bridget after she falls pregnant.

Photo: Virginia Mayo/AP

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