Meloni contests ‘undemocratic’ EU top jobs talks, mulls abstention

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 27th June 2024.

Exclusion from a preliminary deal to allocate the European Union’s top jobs following June’s elections has enraged Italy’s prime minister Giorgia Meloni, who’s now considering formally abstaining from the decision, according to media reports.


An agreement brokered over the EU top jobs in the wake of last week’s informal summit without Italy’s involvement – to appoint Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, Portugal’s António Costa, and Estonia’s Kaja Kallas to the most senior positions at the European Commission – has triggered the ire of premier Meloni, who was considered to have earned the role of ‘kingmaker’ in the process after the positive performance of her Fratelli d’Italia party at the European elections.


The announcement of a preliminary deal brokered Tuesday by representatives of the European People’s Party (EPP), the Socialists, and the Liberals came as a bolt out of the blue for the Italian government, which did not receive the news well.


Meloni has openly contested the selection method “in which a few people claim to decide for everyone”, speaking Wednesday before the country’s Parliament ahead of an EU leaders summit convening in Brussels today and tomorrow to decide on the issue.


She said she considered it “surreal” that, during last week’s informal meeting, names were proposed for top posts as the result of bilateral talks between parties, “without even the pretence of an open discussion, based on how citizens had spoken at the ballot box”.


“It seems to me that, so far, there’s been an unwillingness to account for the message delivered by citizens at the ballot box,” she added commenting on the substance of the deal. For Meloni, EU citizens asked for a change of tack by rejecting policies pursued by governing forces “in many of the large European nations, which are also very often the forces that have dictated the Union’s policies in recent years,” she said, in a thinly veiled reference to Germany and France, which brokered the EU top jobs deal.


Isolated within the European Council, Meloni is now considering a dramatic response, including abstaining from the final decision on the EU top jobs to be taken in the upcoming European Council, Italian media has reported.

Scholz warns against ‘competing with populists’

For German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the success of far-right populist parties at the recent European parliamentary elections is a “decisive turning point” in politics. At the same time, he warned against engaging in a “competition with populists and extremists who exploit the concerns of citizens for their own ends”.


The left-leaning politician said the growth of far right, Eurosceptic parties was due to the public losing trust in mainstream politics as the world faces a series of crises. Scholz then called on moderate politicians to give reasons to restore “confidence in Germany and Europe”.


“There can be no return to the good old days which often weren’t actually that good,” he told the German parliament, the Bundestag, in a government policy statement on Wednesday. “What we need is the political perspective which offers a good future in uncertain times,” he said, calling for realistic solutions rather than simple, populist answers.


The head of the German government also noted that three quarters of voters did not support populist or extremist parties.


Looking ahead to upcoming EU and NATO summits, Scholz reiterated Berlin’s commitment to both organisations and called on them to “strengthen security both domestically and abroad”. “Europe is a central, national purpose for Germany,” he said.

Today’s first debate between Biden and Trump

The US election season is heating up – and the first debate between President Joe Biden and his rival, Donald Trump, is tonight when the Democratic incumbent and his Republican predecessor will lock horns on CNN.


It will be the first of at least two debates before the November 5 election. The debate begins at 2am on Friday (Malta time). It takes place live on CNN from Atlanta, Georgia.


This is the earliest televised US general election debate since 1960. It is also the first one since the late 1980s to not be organised by its traditional host, the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).


Joe Biden and Donald Trump faced off against each other on a stage twice before their 2020 contest. Those two debates were ugly and heated affairs widely panned by viewers.


Polling indicates most Americans are not thrilled about today’s debate – so the 81-year-old incumbent and his 78-year-old rival are keen to build whatever momentum they can with a jaded electorate. They shadow-boxed for several weeks, suggesting neither man wanted to debate the other. Then, in May, Biden threw down the gauntlet. Within hours of the challenge, Trump agreed to two debates – the CNN event today, and a second meeting in September on ABC News.

Israeli soldiers injured in Jenin attack

At least 17 Israeli soldiers were injured in an explosion in Jenin, West Bank, according to Al Jazeera, quoting the local media. The explosion apparently occurred following an ambush set up by Palestinian fighters during intense clashes. Numerous videos are circulating on social media showing Israeli helicopters evacuating the wounded. During the operation, conducted with the support of bulldozers, drones and Apache attack helicopters, Israeli forces arrested three Palestinians and injured another.

Israel allies warn against Gaza war spreading to Lebanon

Israel’s allies and Middle East players have echoed warnings regarding the spread of the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip, after Israel said its plans for an offensive on Lebanon, where it is expected to face the Islamist Hezbollah militia, have been “approved and validated”.


The US, Germany, and Turkey have all responded with concern. While Berlin and Washington have cautioned against the consequences of the expansion of war, Ankara has pledged solidarity with Lebanon and called on other regional players to join in.


Separately, the UN’s most senior official in charge of humanitarian affairs also warned against such an escalation. “I see it as the flash point… It’s potentially apocalyptic,” Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva.


Israeli forces have been engaged in constant hostile exchanges with Iran-backed Hezbollah militants since Hamas triggered the current Gaza conflict with its October 7 attacks.


Turkish President Erdogan addressed the issue in statements on Wednesday. He accused the West of backing what he described as Israeli plans to attack Lebanon and “spread war” throughout the region. “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to spread the war to the region will lead to a big catastrophe,” he said, adding that the Western support for Israel was “pitiful”.


Meanwhile, Israel’s Western allies have issued stern warnings against regional escalation. “Another war would mean a regional escalation on a scale that we can hardly imagine,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk public radio on Wednesday.


Baerbock met with Lebanese and Israeli leaders on Tuesday, during a regional tour. The German top diplomat warned of the danger of Israel and Lebanon slipping into a war.

Zelenskyy visits Donetsk front line

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met soldiers in the frontline Donetsk region, where he presented Ukraine’s new joint forces commander to troops defending the eastern region of Donetsk. He has appointed Brigadier-General Andrii Hnatov to the post, which involves strategic planning operations. Hnatov replaced Lieutenant-General Yurii Sodol, who was criticised over serious military setbacks.


The Ukrainian president recorded a video address against the backdrop of a city that has seen some of the most intense fighting since Russia launched its full-scale invasion. “I started the day in the Donetsk region, together with our soldiers, together with Chief Commander [Oleksandr] Syrsky and the new Commander of the Joint Forces, General [Andriy] Hnatov,” Zelensky said from the city of Pokrovsk. “Today, I officially introduced Andriy Hnatov to all those responsible for the defence of Donetsk region. We listened to reports directly from the positions,” he added.

Russian, US defence chiefs speak for first time

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Russia’s new Defence Minister, Andrei Belousov, have spoken in a rare communication between the two governments. The telephone conversation came in the wake of a deadly attack on the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula that Moscow has blamed on Washington.


The sides gave differing accounts of what was said, with the Pentagon saying the pair spoke about the importance of keeping lines of communication open. Russia’s Defence Ministry said Belousov had warned Austin of the dangers of continued US arms supplies to Ukraine. It was the first conversation between the two men since Belousov replaced Sergei Shoigu in May.


Meanwhile, the European Union agreed on new sanctions on Belarus over the Ukraine war, as it tries to tighten sanctions imposed on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. Belgium, which holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, said EU ambassadors have agreed to the new package in principle. “With this package, we just closed the biggest loophole of our sanctions regime,” the EU presidency said in a statement.

Top Bolivia general arrested after coup attempt fails

A brief attempted coup appeared to come to an end after Bolivian forces withdrew from government areas in the capital La Paz on Wednesday, hours after armoured vehicles were seen ramming the door of the presidential palace. Soldiers were also seen entering the building around 4pm local time (9pm in Malta). They later withdrew following condemnation from President Luis Arce and other officials.


Bolivian authorities arrested the outgoing general commander of the army, Juan Jose Zuniga, after troops pulled back from the square.


“We denounce irregular mobilisations of some units of the Bolivian Army. Democracy must be respected,” President Arce said on social media as the military began to arrive at Plaza Murillo in central La Paz. He appointed new military commanders from the presidential palace as the coup was in full swing. They then ordered troops in the square to return home.


Thousands of supporters of President Arce began to flood the square while waving Bolivian flags as the soldiers withdrew.


Zuniga was automatically sacked when Arce appointed new military commanders. Rumours had started circulating this week in Bolivia that Zuniga’s job was at risk. For his part, Zuniga said in televised comments that he expected the government to change and that he also intended to release “political prisoners” including the former interim president, Jeanine Anez. He stopped short of describing the activities as a coup himself.

US jails Honduras ex-President for 45 years on drug charges

A court in New York on Wednesday sentenced Juan Orlando Hernandez to 45 years in prison. The Honduran former president was convicted of helping cartels to traffic hundreds of tons of cocaine into the US in March.


The sentence also included an $8 million (€7.5 million) fine. The prison term fell short of the life sentence prosecutors had sought, however, given the 55-year-old’s age, he is likely to die behind bars.


Judge P. Kevin Castel said the sentence should serve as a warning to “well educated, well dressed” individuals who gain power and think their status will insulate them from justice.


“I am innocent,” Hernandez said through an interpreter in court on Wednesday. He’d also previously indicated he would appeal the conviction.

Trial over attempted murder of Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner

An Argentine court on Wednesday began the trial against three individuals accused of attempting to murder then-Vice President Cristina Kirchner. The suspect in the shooting, Fernando S. M., 37, appeared alongside his then-girlfriend Brenda U., 25, who is being charged as a co-conspirator. Their friend, Nicolas C., 29, is also being charged as an accomplice.


Fernando S. M. was captured on video attempting to shoot Kirchner as she mingled and shook hands with supporters that had gathered outside her home on September 1, 2022. The suspect pulled the trigger of the loaded gun, but the weapon did not fire.


Cristina Kirchner came to prominence as the wife of late President Nestor Kirchner, who was in office from 2003 to 2007. She then served as the country’s president from 2007 to 2015 and as vice president from 2019 to 2023. She is a member of the Peronist Justicialist Party and is a critic of right-wing populist and self-described “anarcho-capitalist” President Javier Milei.


In December 2022, Kirchner was sentenced to six years in jail and disqualified from holding office over a corruption conviction. She is appealing the verdict and has described the case against her as a “political witch hunt”.

UEFA Euro 2024: Georgia’s surprise win over Portugal

Georgia have reached a historic qualification in their first-ever Euro championship after a surprise 2-0 win over Portugal. In the other Group F game, Turkey beat the Czech Republic 2-1 to also progress through, while the Czechs were eliminated.


In Group E, Romania and Slovakia got the 1-1 draw that sent both teams into the round of 16, with the Romanians topping Group E ahead of Belgium which drew 0-0 againstg Ukraine, eliminatging the latter team.


The Euro 2024 round of 16 table is now complete. The co mpetition now enters the final phase with the round of 16 table all set for another exciting three weeks of football. The matches will now pause for two days to resume this Saturday, with the opening knockout ties featuring Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark.


Here is the calendar of the upcoming games, with all the potential matchups until the Berlin final: June 29: Switzerland v Italy; Germany v Denmark; June 30: England v Slovakia; Spain v Georgia; July 1: France v Belgium; Portugal v Slovenia; July 2: Romania v The Netherlands; Austria-Turkey.


Quarter-finals will be played on July 5 and 6, semi-finals on July 9 and 10 and the final on Sunday July 14.

Photo: governo.it

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