Category Archives: Uncategorized

France’s President Seeking Joint Defense Force

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The French president this month called for a joint European Union (EU) defense force as part of his vision for the future of the bloc.

Setting out a series of reforms for the EU, French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed greater cooperation on security and the fight against terrorism. In a major speech at the Sorbonne University in Paris, President Macron stated that he wanted the EU to boost its common defense systems and have “autonomous capacity for action” through a joint military force. He further called for a shared defense budget and common police, and stated that a European training academy should also be created.

In his other key proposals, President Macron stated that the EU should:

  • Strengthen borders and protect the “sovereignty” of member states against uncontrolled migrant flows – speeding up asylum applications and helping countries where immigrants come from to stabilise their economies;
  • Set up a single, EU-wide tax on financial transactions;
  • Forge a common policy on sustainable development by harmonising subsidies for green technology and introducing a bloc-wide carbon tax;
  • Reform the Common Agricultural Policy, by making it more flexible and less bureaucratic;
  • Set up a European agency to encourage the emergence of “champions” in digital technology.

President Macron disclosed that “Europe as we know it is too weak, too slow and too inefficient,” noting however that “…only Europe can give us the means to act on the world stage as we tackle the great challenges of the day.”

While President Macron came to power in May promising to strengthen the eurozone and deepen EU integration ahead of Brexit, his plans face new hurdles in the wake of Germany’s election earlier this month, which resulted in a rise of the eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. While Angela Merkel was re-elected for a fourth term as chancellor, amidst falling support, the nationalist AfD party won its first seats in the German parliament.

President Macron is now pressing other EU leaders, including Angela Merkel, to work with him. However, Germany’s election results effectively mean that the Chancellor Merkel will now try to form a government that is likely to include the Free Democratic Party (FDP), whose leader is an outspoken critic of President Macron’s European agenda.

North Korea: Russia Warns of ‘Catastrophic Consequences’ If Conflict Erupts

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Russia this month warned of ‘catastrophic consequences’ if a military conflict were to erupt on the Korean peninsula, as tensions escalate further, with China also warning that there will be “no winners” if war breaks out.

The statements come after further escalations between the United States and North Korea. Over the weekend, North Korea announced that Washington had declared “war”, with the country’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho telling reporters on Monday that “the whole world should clearly remember it was the US who first declared war on our country.” His comments were a response to a tweet from US President Donald Trump suggesting that North Korea would not “be around much longer” if its leaders continued their rhetoric. US warplanes also flew close to North Korea’s coast in a show of force over the weekend, which prompted North Korea’s foreign minister to say as he left New York after the UN General Assembly that his country had the right to shoot down US warplanes even if they were not in North Korea’s airspace.

The US however has disclosed that the statement from North Korea accusing Washington of declaring war on it was “absurd,” with the White House further warning Pyongyang to stop provocations after it said it had the right to shoot down US bombers. A US spokesman has disclosed that the fiery talk could lead to fatal misunderstandings. On Monday 25 September, White House spokeswoman Sara Huckabee Sanders stated that the US had “not declared war against North Korea and frankly the suggestion of that is absurd.” Meanwhile Pentagon spokesman Col. Robert Manning reacted by saying that “if North Korea does not stop their provocative actions, you know, we will make sure that we provide options to the president to deal with North Korea.”

As tensions between the US and North Korea continue to rise, regional countries have increased their warnings about the potential of this exploding into a full on war on the Korean peninsula. South Korea has called for a level-headed response, warning that accidental clashes in the region could quickly spiral out of control. The country, which technically has been at war with North Korea since the 1950s, called for “astuteness and steadfastness” in responding to what it describes as continued provocations by Pyongyang. Speaking in New York, South Korea Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha called for he prevention of any “further escalation of tensions, or any kind of accidental military clashes in the region, which can quickly spiral out of control.” According to South Korea’s news agency Yonhap, the country’s intelligence service has reported that Pyongyang was readjusting the position of its military aircraft and strengthening its coastal defences.

Russia has also stated that Washington’s approach to North Korea was a dead end, a statement made by the country’s foreign ministry after the US dispatched bomber jets to South Korea last weekend. The ministry’s Mikhail Ulyanov disclosed that the country was working “behind the scenes” to find a political solution, however he admitted that the use of sanctions against North Korea is almost exhausted. China also echoed Russia’s concerns, stating that war on the peninsula would have “no winners.

Latest Brexit Talks:Progress But Not Enough to Open Trade Discussions

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The latest round of Brexit talks have ended, with top negotiators disclosing late last month that the European Union (EU) and Britain made progress in the latest round, though not enough in order to move to the next phase of discussions on a transition period after Brexit or a future trade agreement.

Speaking to reporters, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier disclosed “we have had a constructive week, yes, but we are not yet there in terms of achieving sufficient progress. Further work is needed in the coming weeks and months,” though he praised a “new dynamic” which was created by concessions made last week by British Prime Minister Theresa May. Barnier highlighted two key areas of disagreement. Firstly, on citizen’s rights, he welcomed a confirmation from his British counterpart, Brexit Secretary David Davis, that the withdrawal treaty guaranteeing the rights of 3 million EU citizens in Britain should have “direct effect” in British law – effectively, Britain cannot change them via new legislation. The EU however continues to demand that people also have the right to pursue grievances at the EU’s own court. Secondly, Barnier disclosed that Britain had clarified that an offer by Mrs May that the other 27 states should not lose out financially from Brexit during the current EU budget period concluding at the end of 2020 would cove payments only in 2019 and 2020. That, he said, was not enough. Commitments agreed in the current budget also lead to outward payments in subsequent years. Further on the money issue, which both sides say has become the most intractable, Barnier disclosed that Britain had yet to specify which commitments it would honour after Mrs May stated that it would do so. The EU has estimated that Britain will owe tens of billions of euros to cover outstanding liabilities. Barnier added, “for the EU, the only way to reach sufficient progress is that all commitments undertaken by the 28 are honoured by the 28.” Davis declined to put a figure on what Britain might pay.

Meanwhile Davis disclosed that they had made “considerable progress” in four days of talks in Brussels. He further repeated his eagerness to move on to discuss what happens after Brexit in March 2019.

Mrs May had hoped that a speech she made in Florence, Italy late last month would unblock the three-month-old talks and pave the way for the EU to open discussions on a post-Brexit free trade deal by allowing Barnier to tell EU leaders that there is “sufficient progress” on three key “divorce” issues – rights for expatriate citizens, the northern Irish border and how much Britain owes.

The two sides are due to meet again in just over two weeks, on 9 October. Were Barnier to judge that they have made “sufficient progress” – a deliberately vague term set by the EU 27 – he would be in a position to recommend to leaders at a summit on 19 – 20 October that they let him launch trade talks. However he has already warned that it could be “several months” before talks move on to discussions about trade.

UK Prime Minister Calls for Brexit Transition Period in Speech in Florence

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On Friday 22 September, British Prime Minister Theresa May tried to rescue stalled Brexit talks and set out a vision for future ties with the European Union (EU) in a speech in the Italian city of Florence.

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU in March 2019 after a shock referendum result that has triggered more than a year of political turmoil, put business leaders on edge and sent the sterling plummeting. The most complex set of European negotiations to take place since the end of World War Two have effectively pitted London against Brussels over how to unravel over forty years of economic and political integration. However after three months of negotiations, talks have stalled between the UK and EU members, as a number of points have frustrated the two sides. Friday’s speech was aimed at breaking the deadlocks, with talks resuming on Monday. So far, the two sides have not reached an agreement on issues of the rights of EU and UK citizens, the financial settlement or the Irish border issue.

On Friday, Prime Minister May set out proposals for a two-year transition period after Britain leaves the EU. She further disclosed that she wants existing EU market access arrangements to apply during that period and promised that Britain would pay its “fair share” into the EU budget, adding that the UK will be the “strongest friend and partner” of the EU after Brexit. The deal she has proposed could include payments worth 20 billion euros (about 18 billion pounds) over the two years. The PM also proposed a “bold new strategic agreement” on security co-operation. On trade, she stated that the two sides could do “so much better” than adopt existing models and that there was “no need to impose tariffs where there are none now.”

In the wide-ranging speech, the British Prime Minister also stated:

  • A “period of implementation” – potentially of two years – should be agreed “as early as possible”
  • That the UK was prepared to “honour commitments we have made” – a reference to financial commitments.
  • And that it would continue to make “an ongoing contribution” to projects it considers greatly to the EU and UK’s advantage, such as science and security projects
  • She wanted a “bold new security relationship” with the EU, which would be “unprecedented in its depth”
  • That the UK did not want to “stand in the way” of closer EU integration, as outlined by Jean-Claude Juncker.

While the 20 billion euro offer is meant to ensure that no EU countries are left out of pocket by Britain’s departure, it is not part of the “divorce bill” covering the UK’s outstanding debts and liabilities to the EU, which still have to be agreed with EU negotiations – effectively meaning that the final bill for Brexit could be far higher.

Mrs May’s speech has received mixed reviews, with many stating that they need more clarity from Britain in regards to what they want.

Brexit Secretary David Davis, who is taking part in the fourth round of Brexit talks in Brussels, stated that Mrs May has shown “leadership and flexibility” in her Florence speech and given reassurances on financial issues. However the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, called for a “moment of clarity” from the UK. Speaking in Brussels, Mr Barnier stated that he was “keen and eager” for the UK to translate the “constructive” sentiments in Mrs May’s speech into firm negotiating positions on issues such as citizens’ rights, the Irish border and financial issues, including the UK’s so-called divorce bill. Remarking that has already been six months since the UK triggered Article 50, he stated that progress on these three fronts was essential to allow talks to move on to the future of the bilateral trade relationship, as the UK would like.

US Administration Imposes New Travel Restriction

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On Sunday 24 September, United States President Donald Trump imposed new travel restrictions on citizens from North Korea, Venezuela and Chad, effectively expanding to eight the list of countries covered by his original travel bans that have been decried by critics and challenged in court.

The current ban, which was imposed in March, was due to expire on Sunday evening. The new restrictions are slated to take effect on 18 October and resulted from a review after President Trump’s original travel bans sparked international outrage and legal challenges. Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia were left on the list of affected countries in a new proclamation that was issued by the president, while restrictions on citizens from Sudan were lifted. Iraq citizens will not be subject to travel prohibitions however they will face enhanced scrutiny on vetting. The addition of North Korea and Venezuela to the list broadens the restrictions from the original, mostly Muslim-majority list. While tensions between the US and North Korea and Venezuela have been on the rise in recent months – with President Trump threatening to “destroy” North Korea if it attacks the US or its allies and also criticizing Venezuela, once hinting at a potential military option to deal with Caracas – officials have described the addition of the two countries on the list of travel restrictions as the result of a purely objective review. In the case of North Korea, where the suspension was sweeping and applied to both immigrants and non-immigrants, officials disclosed that it was hard for the US to validate the identify of someone coming from North Korea or to find out if that person was a threat. One official disclosed “North Korea, quite bluntly, does not cooperate whatsoever.” Meanwhile the restrictions on Venezuela focused on Socialist government officials that the Trump administration blamed for the country’s slide into economic disarray, including officials from the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service and their immediate families.

The latest measures help fulfil a campaign promise that Mr Trump made to tighten US immigration procedures and align with his “American First” foreign policy vision. Unlike the president’s original bans, which had time limits, this one is open-ended. The White House has portrayed the restrictions as consequences for countries that did not meet new requirements for vetting of immigrants and issuing of visas. The White House has stated that those requirements were shared in July with foreign governments, which had fifty days in order to make improvements if needed. A number of countries made improvements by enhancing the security of travel documents or the reporting of passports that were lost or stolen. However others did not, which has sparked the restrictions.

The latest announcement of travel restrictions comes as the US Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments on 10 October over the legality of President Trump’s previous travel ban, including whether it discriminated against Muslims.