Farmers clash with Brussels riot police

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Tuesday, 27th February 2024

Furious striking farmers blockaded Brussels with 900 trackers and smashed through barricades outside the European Union headquarters Monday – sending riot police fleeing before riot cops unleash water cannons amid row over bloc’s policies. The angry workers sprayed riot cops with liquid manure, threw bottles and eggs, and set fire to piles of tyres in a fresh show of force, demanding an end to the problems facing the agriculture sector in Brussels and the EU bloc. Some even decided to smash straight through the police blockades, dramatic video showed, forcing officers to scatter from their defensive positions to avoid being run down. Riot police returned fire with water cannons from behind concrete barriers and barbed wire set up to protect the EU headquarters, where the 27-nation bloc’s agriculture ministers gathered to discuss the sector. Not for the first time in recent weeks, scores of tractors adorned with flags and banners were ranked in lines, blocking traffic in various European cities – notably Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy the Netherlands and Malta. The farmers are demanding EU action on cheap supermarket products, low-cost imports and environmental rules that farmers say put too much pressure on the agricultural sector. Farmers have argued that allowing cheap imports puts pressure on EU agriculture, which cannot compete with other countries with more lax environmental regulations. The farmers’ associations said the EU had not yet done enough to address the demands.

Malta’s Anton Refalo puts the farmers’ case

Malta’s Agricultural Minister Anton Refalo is reported to have told his European counterparts that the protests were proof of the discrepancy between politicians’ ambitions and the farmers’ realities. An official statement quoted Minister Refalo as telling the meeting: “It is time, now more than ever, to acknowledge that farmers can no longer shoulder the burden of the costs that result from environmental protection and climate change on their own.” The EU can no longer ignore the pleas of those whose livelihood depends on agriculture and farming, he said, urging fellow politicians to understand the limitations of reaching a balance between food security and environmental and climate ambitions.

Refalo assured that the Maltese government has always been and will always be supportive of its farmers, and called on the European Union and its member states to do the same. He emphasised that this assistance was also recognised by the European Commissioner for Agriculture during a visit to Malta and also confirmed the concerns of Maltese farmers. The minister listed several solutions, including finding a way to implement the Strategic Plan with more flexibility, improving access to European funds, and reducing excessive administrative burdens associated with reporting on agricultural obligations. He stressed the need to avoid a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach in the case of goals and objectives so that Member States have the space to adopt the most suitable strategies and methods. He also listed the need for new laws to assess the economic and social impact on producers and our food supply security. He pointed out that this would ensure that farmers are protected from additional and potentially unfair impacts.

‘Ministers pave way to reopen CAP’

Ministers at yesterday’s meeting greeted a package proposed by the EU executive to address concerns from the farming community, including loosening green elements in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and reduction of on-farm checks. “These measures will be a first concrete step in the right direction. But the EU Council believes that this is not enough,” said Belgium’s agriculture minister David Clarinval, representing the rotating presidency of the council. EU ministers have invited the commission to beef up its package of measures with new and more ambitious ideas involving an even greater flexible implementation of green conditionality and simpler coordination of controls. Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said the EU executive will look into reducing obligatory measures required to receive aid in the contested green architecture of the CAP – which includes measures on set-aside, permanent grassland, and soil cover – and convert these to voluntary criteria. “Incentives are always better than forcing farmers for more green environmentally-friendly practices,” said Wojciechowski. For the Polish Commissioner, this move would not undermine the EU climate-related goals. “I think many farmers will do it voluntarily if they receive certain financial incentives,” he said adding that some of these so-called eco-schemes have proved quite popular among farmers already. This would likely lead to reopening the core act of the CAP’s national strategic plans, agreed by lawmakers in 2021. “I think the voice was really strong, and there is a majority in favour of that idea [of reopening the CAP],” said Wojciechowski. According to the commission, short-term proposals it has already tabled could receive parliamentary backing during this mandate.

No work with ‘Putin’s friends’, vows von der Leyen

Ursula von der Leyen has ruled out working with political parties that are “Putin’s friends” if she is re-elected president of the European Commission. Her comments come as opinion polls project a significant, possibly seismic surge of hard-right and far-right parties after the June elections to the European Parliament. Von der Leyen’s first tenure has been supported by a grand coalition of conservatives, liberals and socialists that is all but guaranteed to shrink in the next legislature as Eurosceptic forces make inroads and gain influence over the political agenda. “I work with pro-European, pro-NATO, pro-Ukrainian, clearly supporters of our democratic values groups,” von der Leyen said when asked about potential allies in the re-arranged hemicycle. The Commission chief spoke to the press after a closed-door meeting of her political family, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), during which she was confirmed as the only name in its internal competition. The German politician is expected to be elected by acclamation as the EPP’s lead candidate in early March. Von der Leyen is the uncontested frontrunner in the race to preside over the Commission as the EPP is projected to win the largest share of seats in the European Parliament. Still, the decision to appoint her for a second term will have to be decided first by EU leaders and later by the Parliament in a vote by absolute majority.

‘Navalny was about to be freed in a prisoner swap’

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny was about to being freed in a prisoner swap at the time of his death, according to Maria Pevchikh, chairperson of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. She made the claim on Navalny’s YouTube channel on Monday, saying the late politician and two US citizen were to be exchanged for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian FSB officer who is serving time in Germany for the assassination of a former Chechen rebel commander. “I received confirmation that negotiations were in their final stages on the evening of  February 15. On  February 16, Alexei was killed,” she said in the video. Pevchikh also repeated an allegation made by supporters and Navalny’s family that President Vladimir Putin had him killed. She said Putin could not tolerate the thought of him being free. The Kremlin has denied Russian state involvement in his death. Navalny’s body was handed over on Saturday to his mother who was reportedly asked to agree to a “secret” burial, failing which he would be buried at the prison colony where he died.

Sending Western troops into Ukraine not ‘ruled out’ – Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that sending Western troops on the ground in Ukraine is not “ruled out” in the future after the issue was debated at a gathering of European leaders, as Russia’s full-scale invasion grinds into a third year. The French leader said at the meeting of 20 European heads of state and other Western officials in Paris that “we will do everything needed so Russia cannot win the war”. “There’s no consensus today to send in an official, endorsed manner troops on the ground. But in terms of dynamics, nothing can be ruled out,” Macron said at a news conference. Macron declined to provide details about which nations were considering sending troops, saying he prefers to maintain some “strategic ambiguity”. Macron cited the need to to solidify security to head off any Russian attacks on additional countries in the future. Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia as well as much larger Poland have been considered among possible targets of future Russian expansionism.

Without US aid Russia can win, Zelensky tells CNN

“Without American aid, Russia could win and millions of Ukrainians will die,” Volodymr Zelensky said in an interview with CNN. The Ukrainian president said he spoke with Mike Johnson and that the Speaker of the House told him “he will do everything to support Ukraine”. “I have to trust him,” he added. “American money largely ends up in US military production, not in our budget”, he continued, promising however reforms for transparency and the fight against corruption. “I can’t understand how Trump can be on Putin’s side, he doesn’t understand that Putin will never stop… if he supports him it will be against the Americans and US interests” concluded Zelensky.

Hungary’s parliament ratifies Sweden’s NATO bid

Hungary’s parliament has ratified Sweden’s bid to join NATO, clearing the last major obstacle to membership on Monday. The vote, which passed with 188 votes for and six against, came as a culmination of months of wrangling by Hungary’s allies to convince its nationalist government to lift its block on Sweden’s membership. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán submitted the protocols for approving Sweden’s entry into NATO in July 2022, but the matter had stalled in parliament over opposition by governing party lawmakers. Unanimous support among all NATO members is required to admit new countries, and Hungary was the last of the alliance’s 31 members to give its backing since Turkey ratified the request last month. But the vote on Monday removed the final membership hurdle for Sweden which, along with neighbouring Finland, first applied to join the alliance in May 2022. Addressing lawmakers before the vote, Orbán criticised EU and NATO allies for placing increased pressure on his government in recent months to move forward on bringing Sweden into the alliance.

Biden sees ceasefire, hostage deal by next Monday

US President Joe Biden said yesterday he hoped a ceasefire in Gaza could start by the beginning of next week. Amid a spiraling humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territory, representatives from Egypt, Qatar, the United States, France and elsewhere have acted as go-betweens for Israel and Hamas, seeking a halt to the fighting and the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza. A deal could also include the exchange of dozens of hostages for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel. Biden was asked during a visit to New York when such an agreement might start, and answered, “My national security advisor tells me that we’re close, we’re close, we’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.” Representatives from several parties, not including Hamas, met in Paris over the weekend and “came to an understanding… about what the basic contours of a hostage deal for temporary ceasefire would look like,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN. After the Paris meeting, Egyptian, Qatari and US “experts” met in Doha in recent days for talks also attended by Israeli and Hamas representatives, state-linked Egyptian media said, hoping to secure a truce before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. A Hamas source told AFP that “some new amendments” were proposed on contentious issues, but “Israel did not present any substantive position on the terms of the ceasefire and the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.” Yesterday, an unnamed Israeli official told news site Ynet the “direction (of the talks) is positive,” and Israeli media reported that military and intelligence officials were headed to Qatar for further talks on a deal. And Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, whose country hosts Hamas leaders and helped broker a one-week truce in November, is due in Paris this week, the French presidency said. Sheikh Tamim has met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Doha and discussed efforts “aimed at reaching an immediate and permanent ceasefire agreement” in Gaza, the official Qatar News Agency said.

Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,782 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the ministry. The war broke out after Hamas launched their unprecedented attack which killed 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures. Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Palestinian Authority prime minister resigns

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh resigned on Monday in anticipation of postwar governance challenges. “I see that the next stage and its challenges will require new governmental and political arrangements,” Shtayyeh said, emphasising “the emerging reality in the Gaza Strip, the national unity talks, and the urgent need for an inter-Palestinian consensus.” PA President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to nominate Mohammed Mustafa, the chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund, as Shtayyeh’s successor. Meanwhile, Hamas dismissed Shtayyeh’s resignation and said that it “only makes sense if it comes within the context of national consensus arrangements for the next phase”. Hamas is expected to participate in talks with other Palestinian factions in Moscow from February 29 through March 2. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Envoy for the Middle East Mikhail Bogdanov invited as many as 14 Palestinian groups, including Fatah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Ryanair flights more expensive in summer

Ryanair tickets this summer could cost between five and10 per cent more due to Boeing’s delay in deliveries of new aircraft, the group’s CEO Michael O’Leary has warned, adding that this “will reduce Ryanair’s capacity to offer seats on board”. He explained that the delivery of 57 Boeing 737 Max 8200 was expected in March but there will instead be between 40 and 45 for the summer. Boeing has been having problems since an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 was involved in an accident in which a door came off shortly after takeoff.

UN meeting to tackle environmental crises starts

Talks to shape global environmental policy started on Monday in Nairobi, where governments, civil society groups, scientists and the private sector met to plan collective environmental action like climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity. The meeting in Nairobi is the sixth session of the UN Environment Assembly. At the opening plenary at the UN Environment Programme headquarters in Nairobi on Monday, Leila Benali, the president of this year’s assembly, urged members to work toward making “a tangible difference to people’s lives”.

Gérard Depardieu faces new sexual assault complaint

French actor Gérard Depardieu is facing a new complaint of sexual assault, this time from a set decorator who alleges he groped her during filming in 2021. In a complaint to the Paris prosecutor’s office, she accuses him of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexist insults, her lawyer said on Monday. The 53-year-old woman alleges he grabbed her and “kneaded her waist and stomach up to her breasts” during the filming of “Les Volets Verts” (The Green Shutters). Her lawyer said other people intervened to stop the alleged incident. It is the second allegation of sexual misconduct by the 75-year-old during the shooting of the film. Depardie  u is already under investigation for alleged rape, and more than a dozen other woman have come forward to accuse him of sexual abuse. He denies any wrongdoing.

Photo: AP

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