Hungary asked to unblock Ukraine EU accession talks, funds

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Tuesday, 12th December 2023

Pressure mounted on Hungary on Monday not to veto the opening of European Union membership talks and the supply of economic aid to war-torn Ukraine at a pivotal EU summit this week, after Prime Minister Viktor Orban demanded that the issue be struck from the agenda. With tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance blocked by Senate Republicans in the United States, Ukraine is desperate to ensure longer-term financial and military assistance as fighting in its almost two-year war with Russia bogs down. EU leaders are expected decide to open accession negotiations with Ukraine. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Brussels, “I hope that the European unity will not be broken because this is not the moment to weaken our support to Ukraine. Just the contrary, this is the moment to increase it.” Decisions on EU enlargement, which also concern Bosnia, Georgia, Moldova this week, and a review of the bloc’s long-term budget that includes €50 billion in aid for Kiev, can only be taken unanimously by the 27.

‘Anti-EU austerity measures protest in Brussels today

Thousands of protesters are expected to gather in Brussels today to protest what they perceive as “new austerity measures” as the 27 EU member states discuss ways to overhaul rules on government spending. Finance ministers from the bloc have been negotiating for months a reform of the Stability and Growth Pact – the EU’s rules limiting debt and deficits – which would curtail the options of nations seeking to spend their way out of a crisis and potentially force them into austerity. The rulebook, which has often proved difficult to enforce and has served as a source of tension, was suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic but should be reactivated next year. But the European Trade Union Confederation, which represents 45 million members, claims that under the current proposal, member states with a deficit above three per cent of GDP will have to reduce their budget deficit by a minimum of 0.5 per cent of GDP every year, leading to fewer jobs, lower wages, stretched public services and leave most EU member states unable to make the investments needed to meet the EU’s own social and climate targets.

Frontex: record arrivals of irregular migrants in EU

In the first eleven months of 2023, a total of 355,300 arrivals of irregular migrants were registered in the EU – the highest ever recorded since 2016. Frontex says these crossings have already exceeded the entire total for 2022. The central Mediterranean remains the busiest migratory route, with over 152,000 detections reported by national authorities so far, again the highest figure since 2016. Frontex points out, the West African route recorded the largest increase in the number of irregular crossings, which doubled to over 32,400. This unprecedented increase is the highest since Frontex began collecting data in 2009. Data from the International Organisation for Migration indicates that 2,511 missing people have been reported in the Mediterranean this year .

Tusk set to become Polish prime minister

Former president of the European Council Donald Tusk is set to become Poland’s prime minister today after current leader Mateusz Morawiecki lost a key vote in the country’s parliament on Monday. Morawiecki’s populist Law and Justice (PiS) party failed to win a majority in October’s elections. His failure to win a vote of confidence paves the way for Tusk to become Prime Minister and would present his cabinet today. The new government has pledged to restore the independence of the judiciary, which it says had been systematically undermined under previous administrations. He has also pledged to unblock €36 billion of EU funds earmarked for Poland, which Brussels has refused to release over rule of law concerns.

‘Saudis, UAE will foot bill of Gaza reconstruction’ – Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday reportedly told a top Knesset panel that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would finance the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after the war against Hamas, according to The Times of Israel. “The first step in Gaza will be to defeat Hamas. After that, I believe that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia will support the rehabilitation of the Strip,” Netanyahu said in closed-door testimony to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, in one of several remarks that were later leaked to some few Hebrew media outlets. The basis for Netanyahu’s claim was not immediately clear. Neither oil-rich Gulf country has given any public indication that it would be willing to take on such a task. He mades claim despite Arab nations’ insistence they won’t play a day-after role without the Palestinian Authority’s return to Strip, which he opposes.

UN General Assembly to discuss war in Gaza

The UN General Assembly is later today expected to discuss the situation in Gaza, after the United States last week vetoed a Security Council resolution for a ceasefire in Israel’s war with Hamas. Officials and diplomats said a special meeting of the General Assembly had been called for this afternoon by the representatives for Egypt and Mauritania “in their respective capacities as Chair of the Arab Group and Chair of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, a spokesperson for the Assembly president said. According to diplomatic sources, the General Assembly, whose resolutions are non-binding, could vote on a text for a ceasefire resolution at the meeting. A draft of the text seen by AFP closely follows the language of Friday’s vetoed Security Council resolution, “expressing grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip”. It calls for “an immediate humanitarian cease-fire” as well as the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages”. Al Jazeera reports Palestinian activists have called on people around the world to avoid making any purchases and attend rallies in their cities to push for an immediate ceasefire.

‘Britain is broken’ says think-tank report

The most disadvantaged people in the United Kingdom are no better-off than they were 15 years ago, according to a new report, which finds a “yawning gap between those who can get by and those stuck at the bottom”. The grim conclusion about inequality in one of the world’s richest economies comes from the Centre for Social Justice, an independent think tank whose earlier work led to reform of Britain’s welfare system and the introduction of Universal Credit, a monthly government payment for people on low incomes. The 300-page report is the latest evidence of how the UK’s economic stagnation has made it much harder to tackle poverty, with a cost-of-living crisis exacerbating the hardship experienced by the least well-off in society. “We have uncovered a nation of two halves,” Sophia Worringer, deputy policy director at the Centre for Social Justice, said Monday at an event launching the report. “The general public for the most part can get by, and then there is this cohort of people whose lives are marked by family breakdown, physical and mental ill-health; who live in crime-ridden communities and experience multiple barriers to work.” The think tank warns that the UK risks “sliding back into the two nations of the Victorian era, marked by a widening gulf between mainstream society and a… poverty-stricken underclass”.

Nuclear energy included in new COP28 draft agreement

Nuclear energy has been included in a new COP28 draft agreement – reduced from 27 to 21 pages, released by the Dubai conference presidency. The draft, “First Global Stocktake”, recognises the need “for a deep, rapid reduction in both the consumption and production of fossil fuels in a fair, orderly and equitable manner, so as to reach net zero by, before or around 2050, as recommended by science”. The word “exit” from fossil fuels is no longer mentioned while the indication of tripling the capacity of renewable energy and doubling energy efficiency by 2030 remains.

Prison says Navalny has been transferred

Alexey Navalny’s spokeswoman said on social media that officials at Melekhovo penal colony told the Russian opponent’s lawyer that he was “no longer on the lists” of the detention centre, but “they refuse to say where he is been transferred”, according to the online newspaper Meduza. After a 19-year sentence handed down to him in August on “extremism” charges, deemed politically motivated, Navalny is expected to be transferred to a maximum security prison.

Corner of Bronx apartment building collapses

The corner of a seven-storey building in the Bronx collapsed Monday afternoon as first responders sifted through mounds of rubble in search of any possible victims, officials said. The New York Post reported the partial building collapse took place as stunned onlookers saw a slither of the apartments exposed and floors still attached to the rest of the structure on a downward slope. There were no reported injuries as of Monday evening, but the New York Fire Department said it was still searching in case anyone was trapped underneath the pile of debris.

Turkish championship suspended indefinitely after lynching of referee

The Turkish first division football championship has been suspended indefinitely after the lynching last night of a referee at the end of a match, beaten in particular by the president of Ankaragücü. This was announced by the Turkish Football Federation (TFF). According to images broadcast live on television, the leader of the Ankara club, Faruk Koca, entered the pitch after the match between Ankaragücü and Rizespor and punched the match referee, Halil Umut Meler, in the face. Rizespor had just equalized (1-1) a few moments earlier in injury time on the pitch of the Ankara club, who had been denied a goal at the start of the match. Falling to the ground, the referee curled up to protect himself but was subsequently kicked several times in the face by at least two other men, allegedly members of the local team. According to Turkish media, Meler was transferred to hospital with his left eye visibly swollen. Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced on the social network X the arrest of three men, including the president of Ankaragücü. The TFF decided shortly afterwards to “postpone indefinitely” all the championship matches. Denouncing a “black evening” for Turkish football, the Turkish Referees Association hoped that “those responsible for Turkish football and justice will take all necessary criminal measures”. “We apologize to the fans and the entire sporting community for this sad incident,” Ankaragücü said for its part. Demonstrating the extreme resonance of this act of violence, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also reacted: “I condemn the attack on referee Halil Umut Meler. We will never allow violence to interfere in Turkish sport”, he said. The AKP, Erdogan’s conservative Islamist party, has started exclusion proceedings against Koca, according to Turkish public channel TRT Haber. The president of Ankaragücü was elected twice as an AKP deputy, in 2002 and 2007.

Epic Games wins lawsuit against Google

Epic Games, the company behind the hugely popular video game Fortnite, has achieved an important victory against Google, accused of monopoly. A court in California has unanimously ruled that the internet giant “is abusing its monopoly on the app market, to the detriment of developers”. Epic Games has been fighting for more than three years against Google and Apple, which dominate the market thanks to their operating systems and which many videogame companies accuse of anti-competitive manoeuvers. The jurors agreed with Epic Games on all points. “Victory against Google!” Epic Games founder, 53-year-old American computer scientist Tim Sweeney, wrote on X.

Main photo: REUTERS/Matias Baglietto

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