Right-wing parties expected to gain ground in EU election

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 7th March 2024

Polls by the US-based political news company Politico have indicated that both the right-wing populist and the far-right extremist faction in the European Parliament could end up holding even more seats after the upcoming election in June.

Its analysis suggested that the Euroskeptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group could secure around 76 of the 720 available seats, while the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group could win as many as 84 seats. That means the ID group, which has a sizeable constituency from Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, could gain 25 more seats than it holds now. The right-wing populist ECR would gain eight additional seats.

Meanwhile, the number of seats for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) is expected to stay roughly unchanged. The Left group, the Greens, and the liberal Renew Europe group are set to exit as the election’s big losers.

EPP wants asylum-seekers transferred to third countries

The manifesto of the main conservative group in the European Union parliament calls for asylum-seekers to be moved to “safe third countries” to assess their claims. The manifesto is to be approved today for elections in June. The programme of the European People’s Party – which will formally back European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen as its candidate for a second term – picks up controversial proposals by several conservative parties across Europe. Britain, no longer an EU member, has notably embarked on plans to send undocumented migrants to Rwanda. Italy has a deal with Albania to set up centres to process migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

Asylum applications in EU countries surged to over one million last year, a seven-year high, with Syrians and Afghans remaining at the top of the list, as the EU works through an overhaul of its rules on asylum-seekers. Rules approved in December aim to share hosting responsibilities across the 27-country bloc and to speed up deportations of irregular migrants deemed ineligible to stay.

In its manifesto, which is expected to be adopted at their congress in Bucharest, the EPP called for a “fundamental change in European asylum law”.  The EPP met yesterday and today is expected to choose von der Leyen as their lead candidate for European Commission president. The EU elections are scheduled to take place between June 6 and 9

French opposde von der Leyen’s re-election bid

In a deliberately-timed letter, the French delegation of the EPP from the Les Républicains party, published a scathing letter blasting von der Leyen’s policy legacy and leaving no doubt of their opposition to her re-election. Les Républicains are in opposition in the French Assembly and support President Emmanuel Macron’s liberal government on a case-by-case basis. “For far too long, the Union has distanced itself from the people of Europe and fed their distrust by building walls in technocratic reflexes. We cannot resign ourselves to this crisis of confidence,” Eric Ciotti, president of Les Républicains, writes in the letter. “To face future challenges, Europe needs clarity. Europe needs profound changes and a renewal at the top of the European Commission. The outgoing Commission president cannot be this candidate because she embodies precisely this technocratic drift.” Ciotti castigates von der Leyen because she did not run as a lead candidate under the so-called Spitzenkandidaten system in 2019 and was instead hand-picked by Macron as a conservative figure who was moderate and flexible enough to appease the progressive faction of the European Council. Von der Leyen’s surprising appointment enraged the European Parliament, which confirmed her bid by a razor-thin margin. She later tried to make amends by putting forward an ambitious, far-reaching agenda that included the European Green Deal, a €750-billion recovery fund, the joint procurement of vaccines, 13 rounds of sanctions against Russia, the opening of accession talks with Ukraine, a comprehensive reform of migration and asylum policy, and ground-breaking legislation to rein in AI and Big Tech. Ciotti hones in on some of these initiatives to denounce von der Leyen’s mandate as overly progressive and contrary to conservative values, directly blaming her for the farmer protests that have recently swept across Europe. The backlash has put von der Leyen in an awkward position, caught between her staunch defence of the Green Deal and the right-wing pressure of her political family. “A candidate of Mr Macron and not the right, she has continuously left the European majority drift towards the left,” Ciotti says. “This was particularly the case on environmental and agricultural issues, but also in the management of the migration crisis. This drift has fuelled anger that can now be heard throughout the continent, particularly among our farmers and our fishermen.”

‘2023: the year with the most migrant deaths in the decade’ UN

At least 8,565 people died along migration routes around the world in 2023, making it the worst year of the decade, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said. “The death toll in 2023 is a tragic increase of 20 per cent compared to 2022, leading to the urgent need for action to prevent further loss of life,” the UN agency said in a statement.

EU locks horns with China’s envoy on Ukraine

European Union officials have clashed with the Chinese special envoy for Ukraine during talks in Brussels, indicating a wide gulf remains between the two sides about the war, now in its third year. In a series of meetings, EU representatives were treated to a “full dose of Moscow’s talking points” from Li Hui, Beijing’s special envoy to Eurasia, according to several people familiar with the talks. Li, who landed in the Belgian capital direct from Russia on Monday, will travel to Warsaw and then Kyiv, where sources said he is expected today, Thursday. He is then scheduled to loop back to Paris and Berlin afterwards. The Chinese diplomat’s mission, according to his ministry, is to “mediate and build consensus” on a war which is estimated to have cost hundreds of thousands of lives since Russia’s invasion in February 2022. China claims to be neutral in the conflict, but is seen by the US and its European allies to have sided with Russia.

Nikki Haley suspends her campaign

Nikki Haley suspended her presidential campaign on Wednesday after being soundly defeated across the country on Super Tuesday, leaving Donald Trump as the last remaining major candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination. Haley didn’t endorse the former president in a speech in Charleston, South Carolina. Instead, she challenged him to win the support of the moderate Republicans and independent voters who supported her. Haley was Trump’s first significant rival when she jumped into the race in February 2023. She spent the final phase of her campaign aggressively warning Republicans against embracing Trump, whom she argued was too consumed by chaos and personal grievance to defeat President Joe Biden in the general election. Her departure clears Trump to focus solely on his likely rematch in November with Biden. The former president is on track to reach the necessary 1,215 delegates to clinch the Republican nomination later this month.

Trump reacted to Haley’s suspension of her campaign by inviting her supporters “to join the greatest movement in the history of our nation,” while stressing that President Biden “is the enemy”. Trump had earlier reacted to Super Tuesday victories, claiming: “Rarely has politics seen anything quite like this!” he posted on his Truth Social.

Trump yesterday challenged Joe Biden to an election debate after the two men emerged from primary voting as the all-but-certain Republican and Democratic candidates in November’s US presidential vote. “It is important, for the good of our country, that Joe Biden and I debate issues that are so vital to America, and the American People,” said Trump. “I am calling for Debates, anytime, anywhere, anyplace!” he wrote on his Truth Social platform.

5 killed in Russian missile strike near Zelensky motorcade in Odessa

A Russian missile strike, appearently to target Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, landed near his motorcade in the Black Sea port city of Odessa, where the president was meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Five civilians were killed in the attack but Zelensky and members of the Greek delegation were not harmed, despite the missile landing some 500 feet away, Greek officials told the ‘Protothema’ news outlet. Zelensky and Mitsotakis were visiting the Odessa port when, about 10:40 a.m., air raid sirens were heard. The explosion then occurred within minutes. “We witnessed the strike today,” Zelensky told reporters afterward. “You see who we’re dealing with; they don’t care where to hit.” Foreign leaders have made frequent trips to Ukraine throughout the country’s two years of war with Russia, and this isn’t the first time there has been a strike on a city at the same time as one’s visit. But Wednesday’s incident stood out for how close the missile strike was to both Zelensky and Mitsotakis – what some Western leaders condemned as a new low for Moscow. The Russian Defence Ministry later said the  missile strike on Odessa, where Zelensky and Mitsotakis were visiting, was aimed at a military port hangar where marine drones are built, which was hit.

Israeli soldier killed, 5 seriously hurt while battling Hamas fighters

The Israeli Defence Forces announced the death of a soldier killed during fighting in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 247. Twelve other soldiers were wounded, five of them seriously in the same battle against Hamas operatives, the IDF says.

Commander of Hamas’s central Gaza rocket unit eliminated

‘The Times of Isreal’ quotes the IDF and the Israel security agency Shin Bet saying the commander of Hamas’s rocket unit in central Gaza was eliminated in an airstrike. Amar Atiya Darwish Aladini was responsible for Hamas’s rocket fire from the so-called central camps over the past several decades, at least from the 2008 war, according to a joint statement. The IDF and Shin Bet say Aladini “played a central role in the preparations” for the terror group’s October 7 onslaught, and directed rocket fire on Israeli cities and IDF troops in Gaza amid the fighting. The IDF says it also carried out strikes on several Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya over the past day, in response to rocket fire on Sderot. The targets included hideout apartments where terror operatives were gathered and weapons were stored, other weapon depots, rocket launchers, and tunnels, it says. In a separate incident in southern Gaza, another soldier of the Commando Brigade was seriously wounded.

Three killed in Houthi missile attack on cargo ship

White House officials are calling on governments around the world to join efforts to stop Iranian-backed Houthi rebels from attacking cargo ships in the Middle East, after three crew members were killed in a Houthi missile strike on a cargo ship off southern Yemen – the first deaths the group’s attacks on merchant vessels have caused. The Barbados-flagged ‘True Confidence’ had been abandoned and was drifting with a fire on board after the strike. The Houthis say their attacks are to support the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The US Central Command (Centcom), which oversees operations in the Middle East, said three crew members had been killed and at least four injured, including three critically. In a statement, the Iran-backed group said the True Confidence’s crew had ignored warnings from Houthi naval forces.

Houthi TV, Al Masirah, reported that the United States and Britain had launched two airstrikes against Hodeida airport in Yemen, without giving further details. Yemeni rebels had previously attacked a Greek cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, killing two crew members.

According to a telecoms company and a US official, numerous undersea communication cables in the Red Sea have been severed, impacting 25 per cemnt of data traffic between Asia and Europe. Hong Kong-based HGC Global Communications has initiated measures to redirect traffic following the recent severing of four out of fifteen cables. The cause of the damage remains uncertain, with the US official investigating whether the cables were deliberately cut or accidentally snagged by an anchor.

First test of damage from plastic on man – double heart risks

Nanoplastics were identified for the first time in the atherosclerotic plaques of the arteries and for the first time the damage to human health was proven with very serious effects. This was revealed by a study conceived and coordinated by the University of Campania ‘Vanvitelli’, in collaboration with various bodies. Published in ‘The New England Journal of Medicine’, the study provides proof of the dangers of plastics: the ‘polluted’ plaques are more inflamed and cause a more than two-fold increase in the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The study is accompanied by an editorial that defines the discovery as “revolutionary”.

‘Rust’ armorer convicted of involuntary manslaughter

A jury convicted a movie weapons supervisor of involuntary manslaughter Wednesday in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin during a rehearsal on the set of the Western movie “Rust”. The verdict against movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed assigned new blame in the October 2021 shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins after an assistant director last year pleaded no contest to negligent handling of a firearm. Gutierrez-Reed also had faced a second charge of tampering with evidence, stemming from accusations that she handed a small bag of possible narcotics to another crew member after the shooting to avoid detection. She was found not guilty on that count. Immediately after the verdict was read in court, the judge ordered the 26-year-old armorer placed into the custody of deputies. Lead attorney Jason Bowles said afterward that Gutierrez-Reed will appeal the conviction, which carries a penalty of up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine. Santa Fe-based state district court Judge Mary Marlowe Somer did not immediately set a sentencing date.

Islamists kidnap nearly 50 women in Nigeria

At least 47 women are missing after suspected Islamist insurgents carried out a mass kidnapping in a remote area of northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state. The incident happened days ago, but details only started emerging Wednesday due to the area’s remote nature. Some 50 woman were initially taken, but some managed to escape. Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) are both known to have operated in Borno state.

Alabama governor signs bill protecting IVF into law

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a Bill into law Wednesday evening protecting in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments after a February decision by the state Supreme Court led some fertility clinics to pause their procedures. Senate Bill 159, a bipartisan piece of legislation, was met with heavy support from state lawmakers and quickly moved through the legislature to ensure clinics could confidently resume operations for IVF patients. The Justices cited language in the Alabama Constitution that allows parents to sue over the death of a minor child and said that the 1872 law “applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location.” Alabamians also voted in 2018 to add language recognising the “rights of unborn children.” “Unborn children are ‘children’ … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in the ruling.

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