EU’s plan to use Russian assets to buy Ukraine arms diluted

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 20th March 2024

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has tempered her plan to use the proceeds of frozen Russian assets to buy weapons for Ukraine. The EU executive will today propose that a fraction of the approximately €3 billion derived from the immobilized assets this year will also provide non-military support to the war-torn country, according to a document seen by Politico. It is expected that this will amount to 10 per cent, while the remaining 90 per cent would be earmarked to buy arms, two officials said. Following the Commission’s proposal, the issue will be discussed by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels tomorrow, Thursday.

In a diluting of von der Leyen’s initial stance, the Commission will propose the cash won’t be entirely earmarked for weapons purchases that are channelled through a fund called the European Peace Facility. The watered-down plan is a concession to several countries which opposed the idea of using all of the proceeds to buy arms for Ukraine. Countries such as Hungary and Slovakia fear that buying weapons will contribute to what they see as military escalation in Ukraine, while others – including Malta and Ireland – are not allowed to buy lethal weapons for foreign countries under their decades-old neutrality policy. Another EU official said they expect that leaders will provide a political steer on how to use the funds but will fall short of sealing a deal this week due to legal assessments.

Euronews poll projects pro-EU grand coalition still alive

Support for the far-right is likely to rise in the next European Parliament, but pro-European parties will still hold 63 per cent of the seats, according to a poll carried out by Ipsos for Euronews, published Tuesday. The exclusive survey – of nearly 26,000 people, in countries representing 96 per cent of the EU population – is the first of its kind in the run-up to landmark elections due in June. The predicted results won’t change the fundamental calculus of the European Parliament, where centrists will continue to muster the majority needed to confirm officials and pass legislation, the polling suggests. Yet parties from the radical and eurosceptic right could see significant gains, topping the polls in four of the EU’s six founding members – while uncertainties over party affiliation suggest there’s plenty left to play for. With nearly 400 million eligible to vote, the elections to be held between June  6 and 9 to appoint 720 MEPs will be one of the world’s largest democratic exercises.

Despite five turbulent years during which Europe faced the pandemic, soaring prices and a full-scale war, Ipsos predicts remarkably little change in the fortunes of the EU’s two dominant political parties. The number of MEPs held by the centre-right EPP and left-wing Socialists are set to change by only few per cent from their position today, according to the survey. In third place will come a weakened Renew Europe, Emmanuel Macron’s liberal coalition – while the ascendant radical right-wing Identity and Democracy (ID) and eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) groups will plunge the Green party into sixth place, the poll said. One of the first key duties of the next European Parliament will be to approve the President of the European Commission. As such, the results spell good news for incumbent Ursula von der Leyen, whose EPP group seems set to top the poll with ease, securing 177 of 720 MEPs. She could then secure the majority she needs with the support of two other major pro-European parties, including the Socialists and either Greens or Liberals, the results suggest.

With 30 extra seats projected between ID and ECR, the far-right would enjoy more of a rise than a surge – but that includes support in countries often seen as the most fervently pro-European. National Rally, the French party led by Marine Le Pen, is predicted to gain 10 extra seats, becoming the largest party in the European Parliament alongside Germany’s CDU/CSU.

UN holds Israeli occupation army responsible for famine in Gaza

The United Nations held the Israeli occupation army responsible for the situation of famine, starvation, and hunger in the Gaza Strip, which the UN said resulted from Israel’s displacement of most of the Strip’s population, the destruction of crucial civilian infrastructure, and Israel’s heavy restrictions on the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid and commercial goods. In a statement, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, said that this tragic situation is totally man-made and could have been completely preventable were the alarm bells sounded by the United Nations not have been ignored. Turk stressed that the imminent famine in the Gaza Strip must be stopped. He indicated that the Israeli entity’s 16-year-long blockade on the Gaza Strip has been severely impacting the civilian population’s human rights, devasting the Strip’s economy, which in turn led to a dependency on aid. Turk emphasised the need for an immediate ceasefire and ensuring the full restoration of essential services including the provision of food, water, electricity, and fuel.

Hamas chief accuses Israel of sabotaging truce talks

Hamas’s Qatar-based chief Ismail Haniyeh accused Israel yesterday of sabotaging truce talks after its raid on Gaza’s largest hospital, which Israel said targeted senior militants. Israel’s military said some 50 Palestinian militants were killed Monday and hundreds detained during a raid on Gaza City’s Al-Shifa, a complex crowded with patients and displaced people. “The actions of the Zionist occupation forces at Al-Shifa Medical Complex confirm their intent to obstruct the recovery of life in Gaza and dismantle essential aspects of human existence,” Haniyeh said. “The deliberate targeting of police officers and government officials in Gaza illustrates their efforts to sow chaos and perpetuate violence among our resilient people. This also reveals the occupation leaders’ endeavour to sabotage ongoing negotiations in Doha,” he added.

27 dead in Israeli raid on Nuseirat refugee camp

The Palestinian agency Wafa says that 27 people died in an Israeli bombing that hit the Nuseirat refugee camp in the centre of the Gaza Strip in the early hours of today. Citing Palestinian health officials, Reuters said last night that at least 15 people had been killed by an airstrike on a house in the same refugee camp. The Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera said that another 23 people had died in a raid on the Kuwait roundabout in the city of Gaza, a place of distribution of humanitarian aid. The Palestinian death toll in the Strip since October 7 is at least 31,820 dead and 73,935 injured, according to the local Hamas-run Ministry of Health.

New Palestinian prime minister lays out plans for reform

Incoming Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Mustafa said on Tuesday that he would appoint a technocratic government and establish an independent trust fund to oversee Gaza’s reconstruction. In a mission statement acquired by The Associated Press, Mustafa laid out wide-ranging plans for the kind of revitalised Palestinian Authority called for by the United States as part of its post-war vision for resolving the conflict. But the PA has no power in Gaza, from which Hamas drove its forces in 2007, and only limited authority in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out any return of the PA to Gaza and his government is staunchly opposed to Palestinian statehood. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas designated Mustafa as prime minister last week. The US-educated economist and longtime adviser to Abbas is an independent with no political base.

Martin Sellner, far-right Austrian, banned from Germany

A court in Germany has upheld a request by the authorities in the city of Potsdam on Tuesday to ban Austrian far-right activist with hardline views on migration, Martin Sellner, from entering the country. Sellner was allegedly the key speaker at a meeting of far-right figures in Potsdam. The 35-year-old holds hardline views on migration,  and has also expressed racist and antisemitic beliefs. In a post on X, Sellner also confirmed the news, saying he was no longer allowed to enter German territory for three years, otherwise he would pushed back and punished. Sellner was reportedly the key speaker at a meeting of far-right individuals in Potsdam in November last year. Sellner is believed to have proposed the mass deportations of people from Germany, including in some cases German citizens, during the event, in a plan dubbed “remigration”. It’s not the first time that Sellner has clashed with European authorities due to his controversial views. On Sunday, Sellner was stopped from giving a speech in Switzerland, where he would have discussed his “remigration” proposals. The event in the Swiss canton of Aargau was put together by the Swiss neo-Nazi group “Junge Tat”. Swiss authorities said Sellner had been forced to leave Aargau to “to ensure public safety and prevent confrontation with people from the opposing side”.

Trump, Biden win Illinois primaries

US Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican former President Donald Trump notched lopsided wins Tuesday amid one of the worst voter turnouts for a Chicago presidential primary since World War II. Shortly after the polls closed, the Associated Press declared both candidates winners. Tuesday’s vote offered only bragging rights to the candidates after decisive primaries last week in Georgia, Mississippi and Washington state made both Biden and Trump the presumptive presidential nominees for their respective parties. Chicagoans stayed away from polling places in droves, with voter turnout hovering at slightly below 17 per cent. That percentage would be the lowest in any presidential primary in the city in 82 years, city election board data showed. Chicago turnout was 38 per cent four years ago and 54 per cent in the 2016 primary.

Trump falsely claims US funds ‘90 or 100%’ of NATO

Donald Trump has falsely claimed that the US funds “90 to 100 per cent” of Nato as he suggested the US would defend fellow alliance members from attack – if they paid their bills. The former US President claimed Nato would not exist without American funding before demanding that member states pay their “fair share”, during a GB News interview with Nigel Farage on Tuesday evening. Although the US does account for the majority of Nato defence spending, the figure is approximately 70 per cent. And when it comes to direct contributions – money provided by members to cover organisational costs – the US contributes 16 per cent of the total, the same as Germany. “Nato has to treat the US fairly, because if it’s not for the United States, Nato literally doesn’t even exist,” Trump told Farage. Asked if the US under his presidency would come to the aid of Nato countries under attack, Mr Trump said he would – only if they had already increased their defence spending. It was the second time this year he had made comments to that effect, hinting at what the relationship with Nato would be like if he returns to the presidency in the November US elections. Only 11 Nato member states currently spend the required two per cent of their GDP, according to Statista. And major countries, including Germany, France and Italy, have previously failed to meet this target, despite it being mandatory. However, in light of Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, European Nato states are increasing their spending.

Princess of Wales ‘health records breach’

The hospital where the Princess of Wales had her abdominal surgery is being investigated over claims staff attempted to access her private medical records, the Daily Mirror reports. Bosses at The London Clinic have reportedly launched a probe into claims that Kate’s medical information was breached while she was a patient there in January when she had the planned surgery. A Kensington Palace spokesperson told ITV News: “This is a matter for The London Clinic.” She continued to recover there for up to two weeks. ITV News understands that Kate had been informed, as that is usual practice when such a data breach has occurred. The reports about the investigation come after weeks of speculation over Kate’s health and her whereabouts after the Palace said she would be away from official duties until Easter while she recovered. A spokesperson for The London Clinic told ITV News: “We firmly believe that all our patients, no matter their status, deserve total privacy and confidentiality regarding their personal medical information.”

‘Red alert’: last year was hottest on record, says UN report

The world has never been closer to breaching the 1.5OC global heating limit, even if only temporarily, the UN has warned. The World Meteorological Organisation confirmed on Tuesday that 2023 was the hottest year on record by a clear margin. In a report on the climate, it found that records were “once again broken, and in some cases smashed” for key indicators such as greenhouse gas pollution, surface temperatures, ocean heat and acidification, sea level rise, Antarctic sea ice cover and glacier retreat. Andrea Celeste Saulo, WMO secretary general, said the organisation was now “sounding the red alert to the world”. The report found temperatures near the surface of the earth were 1.45OC higher last year than they were in the late 1800s, when people began to destroy nature at an industrial scale and burn large amounts of coal, oil and gas. The report documented violent weather extremes – particularly heat – on every inhabited continent. Some of the weather events were made stronger or more likely by climate change, rapid attribution studies have shown.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson ‘offered role as next James Bond’

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is reportedly set to be the next actor to play fictional spy James Bond. The 33-year-old British star, who rose to fame as a superhero in ‘Kick-Ass’ and played John Lennon in’ Nowhere Boy’, has been touted as the next 007 for some time after Daniel Craig stepped down. The Sun reported that Eon Productions, which has made most of the films in the series adapted from Ian Fleming’s novels, has offered Taylor-Johnson the main role. The newspaper said he is likely to sign the contract and start filming this year at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. Ladbrokes has said the actor, from High Wycombe, is still favourite to replace Craig, who bowed out of the franchise in 2021’s ‘No Time To Die’. Last week, he was asked about Bond by Numero Magazine and said: “I find it charming and wonderful that people see me in that role. I take it as a great compliment.”

Fiorentina general manager Barone dead at 58

The death has been announced of Fiorentina’s general manager Joe Barone, who would have turned 58 today. He was admitted to the cardiac surgical intensive care unit of the San Raffaele hospital in Milan after feeling ill last Sunday afternoon, while he was in Bergamo for Fiorentina’s match against Atalanta which was then postponed. His condition immediately appeared very critical. The Italian association has decreed that a minute’s silence be observed before the start of the matches of all competitions scheduled from today until the next respective championship day. Association president Gabriele Gravina said Italian football had lost a competent and passionate manager, a frank and honest man who has also and above all been appreciated by the his moral values. His most beautiful legacy is the creation of the splendid ‘Viola Park’, which he personally supervised down to the smallest detail, a cutting-edge sports centre which represents a source of pride for Fiorentina and for all football enthusiasts.

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