European Socialists elect Nicolas Schmit as lead candidate

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 3rd March 2024

European Socialists have elected Nicolas Schmit, the current European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, as lead candidate to face off against Ursula von der Leyen. The 70-year-old politician from Luxembourg received the mandate by acclamation on Saturday afternoon at the end of the party’s congress in Rome. He led the internal race uncontested.

 We will not allow that Europe will take the path of austerity and social repression as it did during the financial crisis. This is the main argument, this why we want to win these elections, together, in all 27 member states,” Schmit told the audience as he took the stage surrounded by young activists. “I want voters to know that Social Democrats will keep fighting for all citizens and will respect their commitments and promises.” Speaking before the PES top ranks, including Germany’s Olaf Scholz, Spain’s Pedro Sánchez, Portugal’s António Costa and Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen, the anointed candidate attempted to build his power base and vowed to defend the party’s core values and priorities: labour rights, gender equality, climate action and social justice. “We are the movement that fights against precariousness, especially the lives and jobs of young people,” he said. “We will fight for the Green Deal with a red heart.”

As a result, Schmit will face off against his boss, Ursula von der Leyen, the lead candidate of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP). Both are part of the so-called Spitzenkandidaten system, under which the parties that take part in the elections to the European Parliament are supposed to select a top aspirant to preside the European Commission, the bloc’s most powerful and influential institution. Schmit has virtually no chance of taking over the Commission. The Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the group in the European Parliament that encompasses PES members, is projected to finish second at the June elections. The latest estimate by Europe Elects, a poll aggregator, shows a considerable distance between the S&D (from 154 seats in 2019 to 140 in 2024) and the EPP (from 182 to 180). Even more worrying for the Socialists, the forecasts also predict a strong rise of hard-right and far-right parties, which would tilt the hemicycle towards conservative ideas and away from the progressive causes that Socialists favour.

“The very soul of Europe is at risk

The Socialists have warned that the EPP is moving away from the mainstream centre and normalising talking points of the extreme right for purely electoral purposes. The alliances struck between mainstream conservatives and hard-right formations in countries like Italy, Sweden and Finland are evidence of this increasingly blurred line, Socialist leaders said at Rome. “We will fight those propagating hate and division in our societies, those who fuel fears and prepare the return of nationalism,” Schmit said, asking the EPP and the liberals to be “coherent” and “faithful” to their own history. “The normalisation of the extreme right, as we have seen it in the Netherlands, is dangerous and irresponsible.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez spoke of “ghosts of the past” creeping over the European institutions and longing for a time that “never existed”. “The far right is growing all over Europe, in many places supported by conventional right that is imitating its arguments and populist techniques,” Sánchez told the congress. “The very soul of Europe is at risk. And once again, it’s up to us, the Social Democrats, to defeat that threat and ensure that history continues to advance in the right direction.”

Referring to migrant smuggling, social dumping, corporate tax evasion and children poverty, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said: “These elections are crucial for the future of Europe. It is up to us to provide progressive and fair solutions to the main challenges threatening our societies and our people. Our next step is to demonstrate how our Social Democratic goals of social justice, economic (equality), green ambition and security go hand in hand.”

The elections to the European Parliament will be held between 6 and 9 June. About 350 million eligible voters will be called to cast their ballots across 27 member states. In the immediate aftermath of the elections, EU leaders are expected to gather in a crucial summit to assign the bloc’s top jobs: president of the European Commission, president of the European Council and high representative for foreign and security policy. With the Commission all but guaranteed to land on the EPP’s camp, Socialists are aiming to secure the European Council’s presidency, currently occupied by Charles Michel, a liberal politician from Belgium.

Israel agrees to ceasefire framework, says US

Israel has essentially endorsed a framework of a proposed Gaza cease-fire and hostage release deal, and it is now up to Hamas to agree to it, a senior US administration official said Saturday – a day before talks to reach an agreement are to resume in Egypt. International mediators have been working for weeks to broker a deal to pause the fighting before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins around March 10. A deal would likely allow aid to reach hundreds of thousands of desperate Palestinians in northern Gaza who, aid officials worry, are under threat of famine. The Israelis “have more or less accepted” the proposal, which includes the six-week cease-fire as well as the release by Hamas of hostages considered vulnerable, which includes the sick, the wounded, the elderly and women, said the official. “Right now, the ball is in the Hamas’ court and we are continuing to push this as hard as we possibly can,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House to brief reporters. A senior Egyptian official said mediators Egypt and Qatar are expected to receive a response from Hamas during the Cairo talks today, Sunday. Officials from Israel and from Hamas did not respond to requests for comment.

24 Latin American countries call for ceasefire

The heads of state of 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries have signed a joint statement calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in the Gaza Strip. In the document, the leaders say they “deplore the killing of approximately 30,000 Palestinians by Israeli civilians” and are particularly concerned about “the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population”. Latin American leaders, who gathered for the eighth summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in St Vincent and the Grenadines, also call for “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages” in the hands of Hamas “as well as the guarantee of humanitarian access to the areas affected” by the conflict. The statement also cites support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Finally, it “takes note of the cases underway before the International Court of Justice to determine” whether the Israeli occupation “constitutes a violation of international law and whether Israel’s attack on Gaza constitutes genocide”.

There is increasing criticism over the hundreds of thousands struggling to survive in northern Gaza, which has borne the brunt of the conflict that began when the Hamas militant group attacked southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seizing around 250 hostages. US military planes began the first airdrops of thousands of meals into Gaza. Notably, the airdropped supplies did not contain either water, or medical supplies. Jordan and Egypt said they also conducted airdrops. Aid groups say airdrops should be only a last resort and instead urge the opening of other crossings into Gaza and the removal of obstacles at the few that are open.

12 killed in Israeli raid east of Rafah

The Palestinian news agency Wafa says at least 12 people – including six children – died in an Israeli shelling that hit a house east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip last night. There were also dozens of injured and several are still missing. A three-storey residential building in the Al-Salam neighbourhood was reportedly bombed. Victims are also reported in the Jabalia refugee camp, north of Gaza city. In the last few hours, violent bombings have been recorded in the Khan Yunis area, in the south of the Palestinian enclave. The death toll in the Gaza Strip since October 7 is at least 30,330 dead and 71,550 injured, according to the Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry.

Pro-Gaza protest in Canada cancels Meloni reception

The reception organised by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in honour of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Toronto had to be cancelled for security reasons due to a pro-Palestine demonstration in front of the Art Gallery of Ontario. Trudeau personally communicated the decision to the Italian Prime Minister, followin which, Meloni contacted representatives of the Italian community by telephone to convey her greetings. The protesters gathered with placards and banners in the afternoon in front of the entrance to the Art Gallery, blocking it, as the number increased. On the third floor of the museum the reception began with representatives of the Italian Canadian community, but without Trudeau and Meloni, who were unable to reach the reception location due to the demonstration.

UK cargo ship sinks after Houthi missile attack

A UK-registered cargo ship attacked in a Houthi missile strike has sunk in the Red Sea after taking on water for several days. It is the first vessel to be fully destroyed as part of their campaign over Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. The ‘Rubymar’ is believed to be loaded with potentially-explosive fertiliser, which could pose health and environmental risks. The sinking of the cargo ship comes as shipping through the crucial waterway for cargo and energy shipments moving from Asia and the Middle East to Europe has been affected by the Houthi attacks. Already, many ships have turned away from the route. The sinking could see further detours and higher insurance rates put on vessels plying the waterway – potentially driving up global inflation and affecting aid shipments to the region.

Trump says he’s a “proud political dissident

Donald Trump held a boisterous rally before an energised crowd on Saturday in North Carolina where he decried the criminal cases against him and called himself a ‘proud political dissident’ as he fights charges for election interference and mishandling classified documents. Trump said being indicted is a ‘great badge of honour’ and told his crowd of supporters, he is doing it for them. “I stand before you today, not only as your past but also hopefully as your future president as a proud political dissident and as a public enemy of a rogue regime,” Trump said.

His visit to North Carolina came ahead of Super Tuesday when Republican voters in the state head to the polls to cast ballots in the presidential primary. North Carolina is one of fifteen states holding Republican contests on March 5 where 854 delegates are up for grabs. Trump has also won the caucuses in Idaho, after triumphing in those in Missouri and at the Republican convention in Michigan – thus taking a step towards winning the Republican nomination, winning only three internal elections in one day: the two caucuses in Missouri and Idaho and the Republican convention in Michigan after triumphing in the primaries last Tuesday. So far the former US president has won all the Grand Old Party’s elections and is preparing to triumph on Super Tuesday when 15 states will vote. With today’s victory, Trump gained 32 delegates in Idaho, 39 in Michigan and 51 in Missouri. His campaign believes he is likely to clinch the nomination with the necessary 1,215 delegates within the next two weeks.

Nikki Haley, Trump’s lone Republican opponent still in the presidential primary race, was also in North Carolina where she held a rally Friday night in Charlotte and an event Saturday in Raleigh.

Biden lagging behind Trump in presidential race, poll shows

A new opinion poll has revealed a decline in President Joe Biden’s prospects against his potential rival Donald Trump in the upcoming US presidential elections scheduled for November. This comes just days before crucial milestones in the primary election season for the Democratic and Republican parties. The poll, conducted by The New York Times and Siena College among 980 registered voters, showed that 48 per cent of them would choose Trump, compared to only 43 per cent for Biden if the elections were held today.

The poll found that Democrat Biden is struggling, despite several positive economic indicators, to convince Americans that his policies benefit them. Only one in four voters believe the country is heading in the right direction, while more than double that percentage feels that Biden’s policies have harmed them rather than helped them. The survey also showed a decline in support for Biden among voter demographics that traditionally leaned towards Democrats, such as workers and non-white voters. While Trump has managed to significantly unify his base, with 97 per cent of those who voted for him in 2020 pledging to do so again this year, only 83 per cent of those who voted for Biden in 2020 committed to voting for him again. Additionally, 10 per cent of his 2020 voters now expressed support for Trump, notwithstanding he is running for re-election while facing 91 criminal charges, and it is expected that at least one of his four trials will begin before the scheduled election day on November 5.

Conservatives dominate Iran’s parliament, assembly elections

A range of conservative candidates have swept the parliamentary and religious assembly elections in Iran as the country faces political and economic challenges. State radio reported that an archconservative alliance led by hard-liner Hamid Resaee had won 17 of the 30 seats in Tehran. The UK’s The Guardian says the turnout in Iran’s parliamentary elections appears to have dropped to 41per cent, a record low, but not as some surveys had predicted.

Police bust counterfeiters of high-quality €100 notes

Police in Spain, Italy, and Greece have busted a criminal organisation of Pakistani origin that has produced and distributed over €1 million in counterfeit €100 notes. The authorities arrested 14 people, including the ringleaders of the operation. Spanish police said on Saturday that the arrests were made in the cities of Barcelona, Rome and Naples. The notes were discovered in Barcelona. In November. A gang distributed the notes in Italy, France, Greece and Spain, and the fake money was passing through ATMs and other devices undetected.

Raye becomes record-breaker in BRIT Awards 2024

British singer-songwriter Raye beat the record for the highest number of BRIT Award wins in one year, taking home six trophies at the 2024 ceremony. On Saturday night at the O2 Arena, she won the R&B, best new artist, artist of the year, album of the year and song of the year prizes. She had already been named songwriter of the year – the first woman to do so. Accepting the song of the year award for ‘Escapism’ featuring 070 Shake, Raye said she was “shaking”. She also said that “no-one would take me” before her music distributors agreed to back her.

LeBron James becomes first NBA player to reach 40,000 points

US basketball star LeBron James on Saturday became the first NBA player to score 40,000 career points. This is the 21st NBA season for the 39-year-old, who is the oldest active player in the NBA. On Saturday, he scored nine points for the Los Angeles Lakers in a home game against the Denver Nuggets. James said that he did not consider the milestone to be the greatest achievement in his career, but still found it meaningful.

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

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