No political deal on EU top jobs

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Tuesday, 18th June 2024.

A highly anticipated gathering of EU leaders in Brussels on Monday ended without a political agreement on appointments to the EU’s top jobs, according to Euronews.
It was the first physical meeting between leaders since the European elections, with hopes high that the 27 could make progress on the delicate task of sharing out the roles of European Commission president, European Council president and High Representative for Foreign Affairs.
But the current president of the Council, Charles Michel, told news correspondents around midnight that there was “no agreement” – insisting that leaders recognised their “duty” to reach a decision by the end of June. “They have to work very hard to ensure that there will be an agreement,” Michel said.
Diplomats had earlier expressed hope a political deal could be reached on Monday in time for the formal EU summit on June 27-28. Support for a second term for Ursula von der Leyen as European Commission has widened, whilst former Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa has emerged as a favourite for the European Council presidency, and Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas for the top diplomatic role of High Representative.
Earlier in the night, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) revealed a hidden card up its sleeve, saying that, compared to the outcome of the European elections, they are underrepresented. And they proposed a rotation – as happens in the European Parliament – between Socialists and Populists also at the head of the European Council, after two and a half years. With von der Leyen, the EPP’s lead candidate, in pole position to secure a second term at the EU executive’s helm, and Roberta Metsola (also of the EPP) favourite to continue as the president of the European Parliament, the hypothetical situation would see the EPP in three of the four top jobs in Brussels at a given time. Given that there is a “stable majority” the aim is to find an agreement “in the shortest possible time”, said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.


Italy asks for the vice presidency
As part of the first institutional meetings for the discussion of the new European agenda, Italian deputy prime minister and foreign minister Antonio Tajani met in Brussels with von der Leyen, Roberta Metsola and Donald Tusk.
According to RAI News 24, Tajani reminded his colleagues of the Italian government’s priorities for the formation of the new Commission, confirming to Metsola his strong support for her confirmation in office. Minister Tajani also confirmed to von der Leyen Italy’s request for the position of important commissioner, who also holds the role of vice-president of the Commission. As vice-president of the Council, Tajani represented Italy at the summit of EPP government leaders. Before the European Council he updated the President of the Council Giorgia Meloni on the outcome of the meetings. The prime minister had asked that Italy be “given the right weight” at the end of the G7.
“What matters,” she said on the sidelines of the EPP summit, “is having a vice-president and a Serie A commissioner. Italy cannot fail to have a vice-presidency, it must be asked for and Italy has the right to have it; it was a mistake not ask for it in the last legislature.”
Meloni also spoke about this with the President of the European Council Charles Michel in the afternoon. The Prime Minister also met the former Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, the Flemish independence activist Johan Van Overtveldt and Viktor Orban with whom she spoke “about the election results” also examining “the political issues concerning the right European Union, the future tasks for the European Council and Hungary’s plans for its next presidency of the EU”.
If the requests are satisfied, Meloni will be able to give the Commission the green light, while remaining in opposition in the European Parliament.


Michel invited to a group meeting on Thursday
Charles Michel, has been invited to participate in the next meeting of the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament, which will take place on Thursday, Roberta Metsola told the heads of state and government in the traditional opening speech at the informal EU summit underway in Brussels.
Metsola added that she had also invited Michel to the subsequent meeting of political group leaders on June 26, for a final consultation in view of the European Council of 27-28 in which she hopes that we can converge on the name of the next president of the European Commission. If this were to be the case, the group leaders of the European Parliament would be willing to meet the candidate “for an exchange of views at the meeting on July 2”, added Metsola, with a view to “moving the process forward without delay as soon as the European Council presents its candidate”, possibly already during the plenary session of July 16-19.


Dozens dead and missing in the Med: many are children
A double migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean. About 50 people are missing after the sailboat they were traveling on capsized, about a 75km from the coast of Calabria. On the other hand, the Nadir ship rescued 51 migrants aboard a wooden boat in difficulty off the coast of Libya and south of Lampedusa. “The rescue came too late for 10 people”, said the NGO ‘ResQship’.


Calabria, 12 rescued: A merchant ship arrived to help the boat that capsized off the coast of Calabria and rescued the 12 survivors, including an expectant woman, on a coast guard unit, which then landed in Roccella Ionica. The body of a woman who died after falling into the sea was also transferred to the port. The refugees travelling on board the boat had left from a port in Turkey.
“I spoke to a boy who lost his girlfriend. The survivors spoke of 66 people missing, including at least 26 children, some a few months old. Entire families in Afghanistan would have died. They left Turkey eight days ago and they had been taking on water for three or four days. They said that they were travelling without life jackets and that some boats did not stop to help them”, said Shakilla Mohammadi, intercultural mediator for Doctors Without Borders, present in Roccella Ionica where the survivors of the shipwreck disembarked. “The scene was heartbreaking, traumatised people in front of us, the pain was tangible.”


10 dead on the boat off Lampedusa: On the boat off Lampedusa, the 10 dead people were on the lower deck, which was completely flooded. The engine was broken. The report came from Alarm Phone. In agreement with the authorities, the boat was ferried towards Lampedusa. The NGO crew evacuated the 51 survivors, among whom two were unconscious and were freed with the help of an axe.
173 migrants were landed on Lampedusa. The migrants arrived during the night after the patrol boats of the financial police and the coast guard rescued three boats. On the first there were 103 people, including two minors, made up of Bangladeshis, Sudanese, Syrians and Egyptians who said they had left from Zawia in Libya. The 27 migrants have the same origin, including two minors and four women, who were on a six-metre small boat rescued by CP319. The 43 Bangladeshis and Egyptians who were on the nine-metre vessel instead set off from Garabulli, also in Libya. Everyone was taken to the Contrada Imbriacola hotspot, where there are currently 308 people. The prefecture of Agrigento has arranged for the boarding of 150 migrants, headed towards Porto Empedocle.
The BBC reports the Greek coast guardhads appeared to have caused the death of many migrants in the Mediterranean over a three-year period, according to witnesses cited in a BBC analysis. Among the victims were also nine people who were deliberately thrown into the water. According to what the broadcaster reports, over 40 people have died as a result of being forced to leave Greek territorial waters or having been returned to the sea after reaching the Greek islands.
The Greek coast guard has firmly denied all accusations. The BBC analyzed 15 accidents that occurred between May 2020 and May 2023, which resulted in 43 deaths. The initial sources were mainly local media, NGOs and the Turkish coast guard. At least in four cases, the broadcaster explained, it was possible to corroborate the accounts by speaking with eyewitnesses.
In five incidents, migrants said they were thrown directly into the sea by Greek authorities. In four of these cases they explained how they had landed on the Greek islands and were immediately hunted down. In many other incidents, the BBC reports, migrants said they were loaded onto inflatable rafts without a motor which then deflated or appeared to have been punctured.


Poland upset after Germans return Afghan migrants
German police returned an Afghan family of five Afghan asylum seekers on the Polish side of their border near Osinow Dolny last Friday after apprehending them for having illegally entered Germany without the necessary paperwork. Warsaw decried the move as a violation of law. “The German authorities must not make such a decision arbitrarily,” Poland’s border service wrote on social media on Monday. Under existing law, their lack of documents dictated they be returned to Poland, where they had received asylum.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he would be discussing the “unacceptable incident” with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at this week’s informal EU gathering in Brussels. It will also be discussed at the next meeting between Polish Interior Minister Tomasz Siemoniak and his German counterpart, Nancy Faeser, according to a Polish ministry spokesman.


Heatwave puts millions at risk in the US
A heat wave is forecast to bring dangerously hot temperatures to the Midwest and Northeast this week, with at least 265 million people expected to experience temperatures above 90OF (32 OC) across the country, according to CBS News.
A prolonged heatwave that began last week in Mexico and the southwestern US is expected to spread eastward and linger through the end of the month. The heat dome will affect people in most of the continental US and Puerto Rico at some point, bringing days when the “feels like” temperature exceeds 100OF (38OF).
Nearly 80 million people in the US and its territories are threatened by what the Union of Concerned Scientists calls “Danger Season” – May through October in the Northern Hemisphere when climate change impacts the nation are at their peak and most likely to coincide with one another. Seventy-two per cent of extreme heat alerts since May 1 were made more likely by climate change, according to the UCS Danger Season map, which tracks daily heat, wildfire weather, storm, and air quality alerts.
Extreme heat, especially over extended periods poses particularly grave risks to the poor, homeless and people living in urban heat islands as well as the elderly and small children. Also at risk are people with health risks such as cardio-vascular conditions, outdoor workers, and people facing electricity shut offs or without access to air conditioning.


Gaza hostilities continue despite Israeli pause announcement
Hostilities continue in Rafah and southern Gaza despite the Israeli military’s announcement on Sunday of tactical pauses in operations to allow humanitarian aid to enter, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini told reporters in Oslo on Monday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday criticised plans announced by the military to hold daily pauses in fighting along one of the main roads into the Palestinian enclave.
Lazzarini, commissioner general of UNRWA, the main organisation delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza, said that there had been no pause in the fighting. He told a news conference: “So for the time being, I can tell you that hostilities continue in Rafah and in the south of Gaza. And that operationally, nothing has changed yet.”
The Israeli military said on Monday its forces were continuing focused, intelligence-based operations in the Rafah area, which included close combat with militants and seizure and destruction of weapons.


Netanyahu disbands war Cabinet
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has dissolved the six-member war Cabinet, an Israeli official said yesterday, in a widely expected move following the departure from government of centrist former general Benny Gantz. Netanyahu is now expected to hold consultations about the Gaza war with a small group of ministers, including Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer who had been in the war cabinet.
The move was announced as US special envoy Amos Hochstein visited Jerusalem, seeking to calm the situation on the disputed border with Lebanon, where Israel said tensions with the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia were bringing the region close to a wider conflict.
The Israeli military said yesterday it had killed a senior operative in one of Hezbollah’s rocket and missile sections in the area of Selaa in southern Lebanon. The military also said its operations were continuing in the southern parts of the Gaza Strip, where its forces have been battling Hamas fighters in the Tel Sultan area of western Rafah, as well as in central areas of the enclave.
Hochstein’s visit follows weeks of increasing exchanges of fire across the line between Israel and Lebanon, where Israeli forces have for months been engaged in a simmering conflict with Hezbollah that has continued alongside the war in Gaza.


23 NATO allies in 2024 with over 2 per cent in defence
In 2024, NATO estimates that 23 allies will reach two per cent of GDP in defence, confirming the sharp increase in military spending among European countries. According to the report, those still remaining below the two per cent threshold are only eight countries: Croatia (1.81 per cent), Portugal (1.55 per cent), Italy (1.49 per cent), Canada (1.37 per cent) , Belgium (1.30 per cent), Luxembourg (1.29 per cent), Slovenia (1.29 per cent) and Spain (1.28 per cent).
“Defense spending by European allies and Canada increased by 18 per cent this year, the largest increase in decades,” a NATO document reveals, adding that “over the past four years, the number of allies hitting the target has more than doubled.”


Putin vows trade, security agreements with N. Korea
Russia President Vladimir Putin promised to build trade and security systems with North Korea that are not controlled by the West and pledged his support.
In a letter published in North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun, a ruling Workers’ Party mouthpiece, the Russian president said the two countries have developed good relations and partnerships over the past 70 years based on equality, mutual respect and trust. The article was published a day after the two countries announced that Putin will visit North Korea for the first time in 24 years.


UEFA Euro2024 – Monday’s results: Group E: Romania v. Ukraine 3-0; and Belgium v Slovakia 0-1. Group D: Austria v France 0-1. Today’s programme: Group F: Turkey v Georgia (6pm) and Portugal v Czech Republic (9pm).
France captain Kylian Mbappe broke his nose during his side’s 1-0 win over Austria at Euro 2024 on Monday, a source close to the player told AFP. Mbappe’s head violently collided with the shoulder of Austrian defender Kevin Danso as they competed for the ball in the air. The star striker left the pitch in the 90th minute as blood poured from his nose.

Photo: European Union

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