EU’s final approval to migration and asylum reform plan

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 15th May 2024.

Economy ministers from the European Union’s 27 countries gave the final green light on Tuesday to an overhaul of the bloc’s migration and asylum policies. The plan seeks tougher borders and shared responsibility for asylum seekers among EU member states. The pact, comprising of 10 pieces of legislation, was backed by a majority of the bloc’s countries. The new rules come into force in 2026.

“These new rules will make the European asylum system more effective and increase solidarity between member states,” said Belgian Asylum and Migration Minister Nicole de Moor, whose country currently holds the EU presidency. Opponents of the pact have said it aims at keeping people out and infringes on their right to claim asylum. It has also raised fears that the EU would have to make more unscrupulous deals with countries that people leave or cross to get to Europe.

The so-called ‘New Pact on Migration and Asylum’ is a rulebook that has been in the works for over eight years. Under the new rules, asylum-seekers will be identified within days of arrival in the EU, and their details will be stored in an EU database. This screening is meant to determine whether a person might pose a risk and their chances of being permitted to stay.  Countries where migrants first arrive will be able to relocate a certain number of asylum-seekers to other EU member states.  If one country thinks it is bearing too much of the burden, it will be able to request more solidarity. In crisis cases, all 27 member states will decide together. The new pact will also allow for faster deportation of people to countries of origin or transit, if these have been declared safe.

Putin says Chinese leader Xi is ‘wise and visionary’

The partnership between Russia and China “is always based on equality and mutual trust, respect for sovereignty and consideration of mutual interests. President Xi Jinping, a wise and visionary leader, plays a special and leading role in the development of bilateral relations,” says Russian President Vladimir Putin tells Xinhua in an interview on the eve of his visit to China. He recalled that with Xi “we met for the first time in March 2010 and since then we have seen and called each other regularly. Xi maintains a respectful, friendly, open and at the same time professional communication style. The meetings are not only a dialogue between old friends but also a fruitful exchange of opinions on bilateral and international agendas”. Russia and China are promoting the prosperity of both nations through “expanded, equal and mutually-beneficial cooperation in the economic and cultural fields”, while consolidating “foreign policy coordination in the interests of building a just multipolar world order” by strengthening the foundations “for the future success of our global strategic coordination partnership for the new era”. Putin says. “Today, relations have reached the highest level in history and, despite the difficult international situation, continue to develop.”

China engaged in ‘deliberate’ efforts to undermine the US and Europe

China is deliberately distorting markets with a glut of cheap goods “in a deliberate effort to undermine economic sectors in both Europe and the United States”, US ambassador to the EU Mark Gitenstein told CNBC on Tuesday.

The ambassador’s comments come as the Biden administration on Tuesday announced a hike in tariff rates on $18 billion worth of Chinese imports, including increasing tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles from 25 per cent to 100 per cent. It comes amid growing concerns over a raft of cheap Chinese “green” goods – such as EVs, batteries and solar panels – flooding international markets. However, President Biden said yesterday the tariffs imposed on Chinese products are “strategic and targeted”, claiming he wants “fair competition with China, not conflict”.

Meanwhile, last year, the European Commission launched an investigation into Chinese EVs and raised the possibility of introducing its own “anti-subsidy duties” in the future.

‘Biden proceeds with $1-billion weapons package for Israel’ – WSJ

The Biden administration has notified Congress that it intends to proceed with $1 billion in arms sales to Israel, according to The Wall Street Journal, which quotes sources saying the decision to proceed highlights the administration’s reluctance to further widen the spat with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The package is expected to include $700 million in tank ammunition, $500 million in tactical vehicles and 60 million mortar rounds. The weapons package arrives a week after the pause in shipments of highly-charged bombs.

Blinken delivers message of US support to Kyiv

US Secretary of State Antony Blinekn has told Kyiv that Washington remains committed to supporting Ukraine as the country’s forces face their toughest situation on the battlefield for months. Blinken’s visit came three weeks after Presoident Biden signed a $60bn aid package for Ukraine, following months of blocking by elements of the Republican party. In recent days, Russia has launched an offensive in the north-eastern Kharkiv region, forcing thousands to flee their homes, and on Tuesday hit the centre of Kharkiv, the country’s second biggest city, with airstrikes. Ukrainian officials had said the delay in US weapons made a difficult situation at the front even worse.

“We know this is a challenging time,” Blinken said before meeting Ukraine’s President Zelenskiy. “The assistance is now on the way, some of it has already arrived and more of it will be arriving … And that’s going to make a real difference against the ongoing Russian aggression on the battlefield.”

Zelenskiy thanked Blinken for the US assistance, but said air defence remained the “biggest problem” for Ukraine and asked for two new Patriot batteries for the Kharkiv region. Hours later residential buildings were hit in central Kharkiv. Officials said 16 people had been injured, including three children. The new Russian offensive in the surrounding region risks putting Kharkiv back in Russian artillery range for the first time since 2022. Russia has seized a number of villages in recent days and is now focused on the town of Vovchansk, which had a pre-war population of about 17,000. Vovchansk was occupied by Russia in 2022, and if it fell to the Russians it would be the first town previously liberated by Ukrainian forces to come under renewed occupation.

Meanwhile, President Zelensky has cancelled next Friday’s visit to Madrid, according to the Spanish agency Efe. It would have been Zelensky’s first bilateral visit to Spain in which he was to meet the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and sign a security agreement. Zelensky’s trip Portugal is also off, according to public television RTP which indicated the reason for the cancellation was “the worsening of the situation in Ukraine”.

Senior Russian defence official arrested as corruption probe widens

Russian police have arrested a senior Ministry of Defence official on bribery charges. Russia’s Investigative Committee announced on Tuesday the arrest of Yuri Kuznetsov, head of personnel. He is the second senior official from the ministry to be arrested in what appears to be a widening corruption case, which coincides with an apparent tightening of the military by the Kremlin amid its war on Ukraine. The HR chief was arrested after $1m in roubles and foreign currency, as well as gold coins, watches and luxury items, were discovered at his properties, investigators said. “According to the investigation, in 2021-2023, as the head of the 8th Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Kuznetsov received a bribe from representatives of commercial structures for performing certain actions in their favour,” the committee said. The charges against him carry a jail term of up to 15 years.

Kuznetsov’s detention follows the arrest of Deputy Defence Minister Timur Ivanov on April 23. At least five people have since been arrested, according to reports. Ivanov denies accusations that he received bribes worth $11m in the form of property services from a construction company in return for military contracts. A Moscow court last week rejected an appeal against his detention. The other men arrested were Alexander Fomin, co-founder of a construction company that allegedly paid the bribes, and Anton Filatov, former head of several companies subordinate to the Defence Ministry, who is suspected of large-scale embezzlement.

Trump’s lawyer attacks Michael Cohen in hush-money trial

Donald Trump’s legal team sought to dismantle the credibility of key prosecution witness Michael Cohen in his Manhattan trial on Tuesday. Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, testified about hush-money payments to adult-film star Stormy Daniels. The former president showed no reaction while his current counsel, Todd Blanche, attacked Cohen’s motivations. Cohen, portrayed by other witnesses as being quick to anger, stayed calm during two hours of tense exchanges. Blanche sought to cast him as a man with a personal vendetta against the former president, and one who sought to profit from Trump’s legal woes and openly yearned for a conviction. At one point Blanche asked bluntly if Cohen wanted to see Trump convicted in the case, the first criminal trial of a former president. After being pressed, Cohen responded: “Sure.”

Cohen, who was imprisoned for tax evasion, fraud and campaign finance violations in relation to the payment, was called by the prosecution mainly to testify that Trump was aware of the scheme to pay off Ms Daniels $130,000 (€120,000). Trump faces 34 counts of business fraud for allegedly reimbursing Cohen for the payment through transactions disguised as legal expenses. Prosecutors charge that concealing the payment, made just before the 2016 presidential election, qualifies as election interference. The former president pleaded not guilty to the charges and denies having sex with Ms Daniels.

Massive manhunt for escaped convict after prison officers killed in ambush

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed that everything would be done to find those behind an attack on a prison van that killed two prison officers, wounded three others and helped a convict – being taken from the court back to prison – to escape. The inmate is still at large as well as those who helped him escape. Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau said one of the officers was fighting for his life in hospital and two more were receiving critical care. The incident took place late on Tuesday morning at a road toll in Incarville in the Eure region of northern France. The prosecutor said the prison van was rammed head-on by a stolen Peugeot vehicle as it went through the toll crossing. But the prison vehicle was also followed by an Audi from which gunmen emerged who shot at both vehicles in the prison convoy. “Everything is being done to find the perpetrators of this crime,” Macron wrote on X. “We will be uncompromising,” he added, describing the attack as a “shock”. Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said, “These are people for whom life counts for nothing. They will be arrested, they will be judged and they will be punished according to the crime they committed.” 

French television channels broadcast footage of the attack taken by surveillance cameras at the toll, showing the vehicle colliding head on with the prison van. In the video, the doors of the car are flung open and several gunmen dressed in black emerge. A firefight ensues and one individual appears to be guided away from the van by the gunmen. A vehicle believed to have been used by the attackers was later found as a burned-out wreck at a different location.

Georgia’s parliament passes ‘Russian law’ Bill

Georgian MPs on Tuesday approved a “foreign influence” Bill that sparked weeks of mass protests, with critics calling it a Russian-style threat to free speech and the country’s aspirations to join the European Union. The Bill requires media and non-governmental organisations and other nonprofit groups to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20 per cent of their funding from abroad. The government says the Bill is needed to stem what it deems as harmful foreign actors trying to destabilise politics in the nation of 3.7 million people. After the 84-30 vote, a crowd of protesters in front of parliament tried to break metal barriers near the building. At least 13 people were arrested in the protest, police said. The opposition has denounced the Bill as “the Russian law” because Moscow uses similar legislation to crack down on independent news media, nonprofits and activists critical of the Kremlin.

Ship that struck Baltimore bridge lost power twice before crash

The cargo ship ‘Dali’ that crashed into Baltimore’s Key Bridge in March had a pair of “catastrophic electrical failures” minutes before the crash and had experienced two blackouts a day earlier, according to a preliminary report released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board. The 24-page report details investigators’ early factual findings on the March 26 disaster that took down the 2.57-km long steel structure, killing six construction workers on the bridge and severing access to critical shipping routes in and out of the Port of Baltimore. According to the report, the two power outages occurred three ships’ lengths from the bridge and were triggered by the tripping of two critical circuit breakers, which caused several pumps required for the ship’s single propeller and its single rudder to stop working.

Whales attack and sink 50-foot yacht in Strait of Gibraltar

A pod of killer whales attacked and sunk a yacht in the Strait of Gibraltar, between Spain and Morocco, officials confirmed to ABC News. Two people were on board the vessel when the incident occurred on Sunday, according to Spain’s maritime authority. The 50-foot yacht, named ‘The Alboran Cognac’, was 25kms from Cabo Espartel in Morocco when an unknown number of orcas began ramming it. The couple alerted Spanish authorities and a rescue team arrived to extricate them from the vessel an hour after the attack, though officials were unable to salvage the sinking boat. There have been approximately 700 orca attacks since 2020, according to GT Orca Atlantica, a conservation group, and officials believe there are more than 37 orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Cannes opens with Palme d’Or for Meryl Streep

The Cannes Film Festival opened Tuesday with the presentation of an honorary Palme d’Or for Meryl Streep and a tribute to jury head Greta Gerwig as the French Riviera gathering kicked off its 77th edition against the backdrop of a defining #MeToo moment for French film. French actress Juliette Binoche broke into tears as she delivered the honorary Palme d’Or to the beloved Hollywood icon, who was making her first appearance in Cannes in 35 years. “I’m just so grateful that you haven’t gotten sick of my face and you haven’t gotten off the train,” said Streep, who received the first lengthy standing ovation of the festival. She and Binoche jointly declared Cannes officially open. A host of Hollywood A-listers are in the Riviera for the festival that runs until May 25.

UK Premier League: Man City flies towards fourth title

Manchester City beat Tottenham 2-0 and moved to the top of the UK Premier League table with 88 points, two more than Arsenal, with only one matchday left until the end of the championship. Pep Guardiola’s team is thus close to its fourth consecutive title. The star of the evening was Erling Haaland, who scored a brace in the 51st minute and a penalty in the 91st minute. The Norwegian tops the Premier League scoring charts with 27 goals, six more than Chelsea’s Cole Palmer. Spurs’ defeat means, however, that Aston Villa are arithmetically fourth and have therefore qualified for the Champions League for the first time since 1983.

Photo: Valeria Mongelli/AP

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