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Safely back home after nearly an 11 week absence! Thanks to everyone who looked after me in the many stages of this journey. It was a great experience, capped by attending a sea baptism in Invercargill on my last Sunday. I will try to catch up as soon as possible. Don.
The Holy Mountain, centre of the Orthodox faith, is now a huge building site – and much of the work is funded by Russia
I have just returned from one of the world’s most secretive states. I had to apply for a visa a month beforehand and send in a copy of my passport. There is no way into this place by road; you have to arrive on an authorised boat and a policeman checks your visa against your passport before you board. Private boats must keep well offshore and may not land. The visa is valid for only three nights; you have to book each night in advance and may not spend more than one night in the same place. Only ten visas are granted a day.
Women have always been forbidden here — this rule remains strictly in force. A secretive body of Elders governs here and all citizens are bound to total obedience. They wear identical floor-length black gowns and are not permitted to shave — the style of dress favoured by zealots everywhere. And guess what? This state is in western Europe.
Few people have heard of Mount Athos and fewer still have visited it, and that is the way they like it. A notable exception is Vladimir Putin. He has been at least twice, once in 2006 and again in May of this year.
Putin made a public rapprochement with the Orthodox church after many years as a KGB agent and therefore a presumed atheist. He well knows that a significant percentage of Russians are adherents so it makes sense to use the church and Mt Athos, or the Holy Mountain as it is known, as a propaganda tool. He has given money to the Russian monastery of Panteleimenos, which houses just 70 monks but has rooms for hundreds more.
Putin has formed an unholy alliance with the Orthodox church in order to ensure he receives its blessing. This fits with his self-image as a modern Tsar embodying church and state. For believers, the Holy Mountain is the centre of their faith, their Rome, the place where the flame of their faith connects to heaven.
Mount Athos is one of the world’s few remaining theocratic states, alongside Iran and the Vatican. It is easier to visit and-travel around Iran or North Korea than it is Mt Athos. Since you have to spend each night in a different monastery, you lose much of the day travelling, meaning you can’t be too inquisitive. Athos is technically within Greece, which handles its external affairs, so Mt Athos is part of the EU — but there is no freedom of movement or equality of the sexes here.
The permanent residents are monks who live in one of 20 monasteries or their dependencies. The monasteries are ancient — the earliest, Great Lavra, dates from 963 ad — but most suffered from fires and neglect. Twenty years ago the number of monks had dwindled to fewer than a thousand, but in recent years there has been a resurgence. The monasteries are Greek apart from a Serbian one, a Russian one and a Bulgarian one.
The monks take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and, once their final vows are sworn, become monks for life. Personal expression is frowned upon. More visas are granted to Orthodox believers who seemed as fervent as the monks; prostrating themselves, endlessly making the sign of the cross and kissing many of the icons and holy relics. The smell of incense is all-pervading. Doubt or questioning is discouraged.
There is building work everywhere, not just restoration but lavish construction. Panteleimenos, the Russian monastery, is so perfect that it looks newly made. At Xenofontos we saw two new buildings made of marble and other fine materials within the confines of an historic site. Nearby, we came upon a cellar that housed a lift, six new stainless steel wine-fermenting vats, new plumbing and electrics of the highest calibre.
The stone walls of field terraces are in perfect repair; the vineyards and olive groves are well tended. There are cranes every-where as well as yellow earth-moving vehicles and diggers, plus trucks laden with cement, slates and other building materials. Looking at the hillsides, I could see evidence of recently graded dirt roads snaking over tortuous mountain passes — but no roads have been built to link Mt Athos with Greece.
The books tell you that there are approximately 1,700 monks in all the monasteries, but I saw sufficient accommodation for ten times that number, including a number of desirable-looking villas, all with sea views.
At Vatopedi, works included a new sea wall and dockside, but few boats were in evidence. We saw similar new docks and boathouses under construction elsewhere, despite the ban on private boats landing here.
Mt Athos is currently one large building site in contrast to the dereliction and poverty of the rest of Greece. It seems unreal that humble monks should be employing so much specialist labour. This must be costing hundreds of millions of euros. The ancient buildings have received EU and Unesco grants, but these surely account for a fraction of the lavish expenditure I observed. Such huge grants could not be justified given that access is so limited and entry is forbidden to women
We were told that Russian money forms an important source of funding all over the-peninsula. Donating to the church to buy favours in heaven doesn’t seem a sufficient explanation. Does Russia have a secret agenda to account for such largesse? Why might Mr Putin be interested in this closed, authoritarian and guarded community?
Many Russians visit and quite a number work here, but I found that people-avoided questions about the role of Russia on Mt Athos. Something deeper and more sinister seems to be at work. Maybe Russia is using Mt Athos as a listening post or centre for intelligence gathering located well behind Nato’s front line; we noticed a number of sophisticated looking antennae and dish arrays.
Could the answer lie in the important strategic position of Mt Athos? It is close to the border with Turkey and the narrow Dardanelles, a convenient haven for Russian vessels coming from their base in the recently annexed Crimea. Should the Turks decide to blockade the narrow channel between Europe and Asia, this place might become a safe haven, even a Russian Gibraltar.
The EU and Greece have questions to answer, as do the inscrutable monks of Mt Athos. Has the Greek government been party to the discussions between the monks and Putin? Greece and Nato have a responsibility to ensure that this small part of Europe remains firmly in our sphere. It is in danger of becoming a Russian satellite, if it has not become one already.
Does the EU know and approve of the price that Mt Athos is paying in return for Russian money?
If you’ve declared imminent catastrophe to be certain, and it doesn’t happen, what can you do next?
Next time it comes to redesigning the PPE course at Oxford, I suggest a module beginning with a quotation from George Osborne. It’s something he said to the Treasury Select Committee in May, back when he was still Chancellor: ‘If you look at the sheer weight of opinion, it is overwhelmingly the case that people who look at the case for leaving the EU come to the conclusion it would make the country poorer, and it would make the individuals in the country poorer, too.’ There might be advantages to Brexit, he said, ‘but let’s not pretend we’d be economically better off’.
In other words: it wasn’t just George Osborne’s opinion that Britain would be worse off if we left the EU; it was objective fact. It wasn’t just that he thought he was winning the argument; there was no argument to be had, because the experts agreed beyond all reasonable doubt. Osborne was so sure that he published a draft of the emergency budget which would be needed in the post-Brexit meltdown, and made some startlingly exact predictions. Households, he said, would be £4,300 worse off by 2030 — after the inevitable surge in mortgage rates, property crash, and half a million job losses.
Ross Clark, Torsten Bell and Isabel Hardman discuss the Brexit bounce back:
It has become a familiar trick in politics: try to claim ownership of the truth. Whether it be David Miliband as environment secretary in 2006 telling us that the science of climate change was ‘settled’, or a committee of MPs trying to claim, on the back of a few low-grade academic papers, that drugs policy had failed beyond all question, we are continually told that it is not possible to disagree with a consensus of experts. Do so, and you are a part of the ‘post-fact society’.
There is just one problem with this line of argument: if your experts turn out to be wrong, you end up looking pretty silly. That is exactly where George Osborne and many of his fellow Remainers stand now. We haven’t yet left the EU, of course, and there could well be other economic shocks before we do, but the talk of immediate financial meltdown stands exposed as bunkum. The Financial Times, whose hysteria over the issue has led it to run a weekly doom-o-meter of economic data, has found the figures reporting fairly robust economic health.
True, there was an initial wave of panic when the referendum result became clear on the morning of 24 June. The stock market and the pound plummeted. That much really was inevitable, given what the Chancellor and the Governor of the Bank of England had said about the dangers of Brexit, and how completely the result caught the markets — along with the pollsters and the bookies — by surprise. Yet by the next Monday the FTSE 100 was bouncing back and over the following week it rose above its pre-referendum level. The FTSE 250, less stuffed with giant global corporations, took longer to rebound — but by the end of July it, too, was trading higher than it had done on the eve of the vote. Investors seemed to have come to a consensus of their own — one that flew in the face of Osborne and his phalanx of economists.
Then there was that awful interregnum after David Cameron announced that he had no plan for Brexit, and that he was resigning, and it looked as if there would have to be a months-long Tory leadership contest before anyone began to take charge. Surveys during that 18-day period would have produced gloomy results. No one felt able to challenge Mark Carney when he said that some risks of Brexit had ‘begun to crystallise’. Everything that the Remain camp had warned us about appeared to be coming true. Even the Brexiteers, few of whom ever denied there would be turbulence, seemed to be bracing-themselves.
Things are looking very different now. The indexes of business and consumer confidence that plunged in July seemed to surge just as much in August — a Brexit bounce.
Take perhaps the most famous of these, the Purchasing Managers’ Index — a monthly survey which grills some of the best-informed people inside a panel of 650 companies on how their businesses are doing, and is often used as a proxy for the health of business as a whole.
It is produced by an outfit called IHS Markit, and as late as 22 July their chief economist, Chris Williamson, was warning of a ‘dramatic deterioration’. His index had fallen to 47.7; anything below 50 means that the economy is shrinking. The last occasions on which it had fallen like that, he said, had been during the global financial crisis, the bursting of the dotcom bubble and the 1998 Asian financial crisis — but he wouldn’t want us to be unduly reassured: ‘The difference this time is that it is entirely home-grown, which suggests the impact could be greater on the UK economy than before.’
Then, last month, the index bounced back up to 53.2. Suddenly Williamson sounded like a different man: ‘A record rise in the services PMI adds to the encouraging news seen in the manufacturing and construction sectors in August to suggest that an imminent recession will be avoided.’
Steadily, economists who rather lost their heads during the EU referendum campaign have been pulling themselves together. Credit Suisse this week doubled its growth forecast for the UK economy. Morgan Stanley has withdrawn a recession forecast, as has Chris Giles, economics editor of the Financial Times. Ian Stewart, Deloitte’s chief economist, pointed out what the more excitable economists should have realised: uncertainty is not the same thing as calamity. ‘Brexit is a political turning point whose long-term implications are unknown,’ he pointed out. ‘In that respect it has something in common with Labour’s election landslide in 1945 or Mrs Thatcher’s in 1979. But Brexit is not a global economic shock.’
Every day the business news reinforces this story. Spending in shops rose by 1.4 per cent in July, according to the Office for National Statistics, and unemployment fell by 8,600. In August, 3.3 per cent more new cars were registered than in the same month last year. And the warnings of the Remain camp that a vote for Brexit would harm investment in the UK? That was rather scotched in July when chip manufacturer Arm announced it had agreed to be taken over by Japan’s Softbank — a deal that appears only to have been proposed since the Brexit vote.
Consumers, meanwhile, seem thoroughly cheerful. Lloyds Bank’s spending power report for July suggested they were more confident of their finances than at any time since the survey began five years ago. Should we be surprised by that? Not really. The majority of the public did, after all, vote to leave the EU. Why would they have voted for Brexit if they thought that it would hurt them personally, and why should they now be frightened of a decision which they themselves made? The scare stories never hung together on this one — it’s quite possible that consumer confidence is strong not in spite of the vote for Brexit, but because of it. The majority judged, contrary to Osborne, Carney and co, that Britain might actually benefit from leaving the EU. They got what they wanted and now they feel good about the future.
This, needless to say, is not how diehard Remainers see it. Many who warned of economic Armageddon have switched to an alternative narrative: yes, the economy is doing OK, but only thanks to a drastic intervention by the Bank of England, which lowered rates to 0.25 per cent and printed another £40 billion through quantitative easing. Chris Williamson of Markit, for instance, acknowledges the slew of positive data, but adds: ‘You can’t say that everyone who was ringing the alarm bells over Brexit was scaremongering because really it was the warnings that triggered those strong policy actions.’ In other words, the economy is recovering but only because his index looked so scary that the Bank of England had to act.
These doom-mongering wise men, it seems, can’t be wrong: if the economy tanks, they told us so; if it doesn’t, that’s because they saw the crisis coming and rallied round to prevent it. Bravo, doom-mongers.
We will never know whether lower rates or quantitative easing made a difference — on this occasion or any other. The only scientific way to do that would be to construct two identical economies in parallel universes, then cut rates and pump up QE in one while leaving the other alone. If such an experiment could be done, it is far from certain that it would show the Bank of England’s actions had any effect at all.
But what we do know for sure is that the economy has failed to suffer the disaster predicted by Osborne, Carney and many others. Moreover, it has rebounded without the emergency budget that Osborne said would be necessary.
There is little to fear about the immediate future. One thing hasn’t fully rebounded: the pound. That is a massive stimulus for our exporters, helping to keep them competitive. And meanwhile, warnings about the EU’s inability to handle globalisation do seem to be borne out. The EU and US trade deal is said to be on the point of collapse, despite the EU’s supposed collective negotiating clout. Countries outside the EU, such as Switzerland, seem quite capable of doing trade deals with the like of China and Japan, while the EU has so often failed.
What Brexit, when it comes, will eventually mean for the UK economy is still, of course, highly uncertain. Turbulence is inevitable — but how much of it we will feel, and when it will come, is impossible to predict. But one thing is for sure: those who said that leaving the EU would lead to economic collapse, and who claimed that they couldn’t possibly be wrong because they had a consensus of experts behind them, are already looking a tad silly.
The Times 10-Sep-16
President Putin is looking to regain influence in the region. He will host talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders
President Putin is to host talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders — a diplomatic coup that underlines his increasing international assertiveness.
Negotiations are under way to set a date for the meeting in Moscow between Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, that the Kremlin hopes will breathe life into the moribund peace process.
The last round of talks broke down in 2014 despite months of US-brokered negotiations. Analysts say there is little chance that the Moscow event will result in significant progress but merely bringing together two leaders who have not held a formal meeting since 2010 would represent a substantial achievement for Russia.
Palestinian officials said this month that Russia would make a more balanced and credible mediator than the US, which has traditionally taken the lead. Some Israeli analysts were sceptical, however, describing Russia’s eagerness as little more than an attempt to exert regional influence.
Word of the talks came as newly uncovered documents suggested that Mr Abbas was once a KGB agent in Damascus. The documents were handed over to Britain by a former KGB archivist in 1991, but were only recently made available in their entirety to researchers. Palestinian officials have dismissed the claim as an Israeli attempt to discredit Mr Abbas and derail peace efforts.
Russia’s apparent success in bringing the Israelis and the Palestinians to the negotiating table is the latest stage of a remarkable return to the Middle East for Moscow, which was largely frozen out after the collapse of the USSR.
The Kremlin has deployed fighter jets and other military forces to Syria to support President Assad in the five-year-long civil war that has killed about 400,000 people. Last month Russia launched bombing raids against rebel groups in Syria from Iran, thought to be the first time since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that Tehran has granted a foreign power that right. The Kremlin has also been pressuring Turkey, a member of Nato, to give it access to Incirlik air base, which is being used by the US for its operations in Syria.
Yesterday Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, held a 45-minute phone discussion with John Kerry, the US secretary of state, in an attempt to reach a ceasefire in Syria, but to no avail. They meet again in Geneva this week.
From the Middle East to Asia, an increasingly confident Russia is stepping into the void left by America’s apparent reluctance to assert itself on the international stage. Yesterday ships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet headed to the South China Sea for joint naval exercises with China — even as Mr Obama, speaking at a regional summit in Laos, said that China was bound by international law to abandon its ambitions in the area. In July an international tribunal at the Hague struck down China’s claim to the strategically important waters.
The Philippines government circulated images yesterday showing Chinese ships poised to begin construction at one of the most sensitive of the sites, Scarborough Shoal, barely 140 miles from the Philippines mainland.
China has rejected the tribunal’s ruling and accused the US of seeking to stir up regional unrest. Mr Putin said this week that he supported China’s stance. In another sign of increasing ties, the Kremlin has agreed to sell its S400 surface-to-air missile system to China.
Ash Carter, the US defence secretary, accused Russia this week of attempting to erode the international order, and there have been several recent incidents reminiscent of the Cold War. On Wednesday a Russian fighter jet patrolling over the Black Sea came within 10ft of a US spy plane which, it claimed, had been flying with its transponders off, making identification difficult. In April two Russian jets repeatedly buzzed the USS Donald Cook, a guided missile destroyer, in the Baltic. US navy officials described it as a “simulated attack”.
The Kremlin’s apparent willingness to challenge the US for global dominance comes despite a deep economic recession at home that has sucked millions of people into poverty. However, Mr Putin’s approval ratings remain high, partly because of a state media propaganda campaign that has portrayed the West as plotting to bring Russia to its knees. Russia state television recently described ties with the US as khrenovie — or “shitty”.
The chill was symbolised at the G20 summit in China on Wednesday when Mr Putin and Mr Obama appeared to gaze into each other’s eyes with a naked hostility that some commentators described as a “death stare”.
Jerusalem Post 10-Sep-16
This is not the first time the Russians have proposed Moscow as a venue of talks.
The toughest part of negotiations, said US Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly in 2013, paraphrasing former British prime minister Tony Blair, is the launch.
The reason for this, he said as he labored to start negotiations that year, “is because both sides want to understand what the parameters are, how you will negotiate and what you negotiate about. And once you get to that, then you can begin to dig in and get to the hard work.”
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If that is the case, then the announcement by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday that both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed“in principle” to talks in Moscow ought to be cause for celebration.
If the hardest part is the launch, and the Russians announced that a launch is on the way, then the rest should be just filling in the details, right? Wrong, obviously. Because if there is one thing 25 years of negotiations has taught, it is that both Blair and Kerry were mistaken. The hardest part is not starting the negotiations, but rather conducting and concluding them. Because what has emerged inside the negotiating room, time and time again, is that the gap between the most Israel is willing to give, and the least the Palestinians are willing to accept, is cavernous.
The aphorism that “everyone knows what a solution will look like” has, likewise, proven wrong repeatedly. The sides have very different conceptions of what a solution will look like. Where will the borders run? What is to be done in Jerusalem? Will Israel retain security control inside a Palestinian state? What will happen to refugee claims? Will the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people? It is hard to believe that shifting the meeting ground from Washington to Moscow is going to significantly change any of that. No one ever said that the air in Moscow makes one wise, or more willing to compromise.
Yet the Russian Foreign Ministry announcement is significant, if not because it is the harbinger of an accord just lurking right around the corner – as Kerry wanted everyone to believe back in 2013 – but rather because of what it says about Russia’s emerging power and influence in the region.
This is not the first time the Russians have proposed Moscow as a venue of talks. They did it a number of times in 2008, soon after the Annapolis Conference held by then-US president George W. Bush. But back then, everyone politely nodded, gave the Russians a gentle pat on the head, and moved on. The Americans were fully engaged in the region, and had no interest in letting the Russians elbow in on a process they were leading.
That was then. Quite a lot has changed in the Middle East in the intervening eight years, including the stature of Russia and the US. The star of the former is on the rise, while that of the latter is waning.
With Russia significantly engaged militarily right on Israel’s doorstep in Syria, and with close coordination between the two militaries critical to prevent any accidental engagement between the two air forces, Moscow’s request this time is harder – if not impossible – for Jerusalem to ignore.
It’s not a matter, as some have posited, of an Israeli bellyfull of tension with the Obama administration, foolishly looking to hedge its bets by looking to forge closer relations with Russia at America’s expense.
On the contrary, it’s a pragmatic realization that Moscow has filled a vacuum left by the US in the region, and is a player here to an extent not seen since before the 1973 Yom Kippur War. As such, unlike in 2008, when Moscow calls, Jerusalem can’t just ignore it.
The same is true of the Palestinians.
While Abbas would probably certainly prefer a diplomatic process led by the French rather than by the Russians – making the assumption, not an unrealistic one – that the French would lean harder on Israel than Moscow would, he too cannot dismiss Putin’s call.
First of all, Russia has for so long backed the Palestinian cause, that they cannot now just be ignored. And, secondly, because Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – an important backer for Abbas – has come out in support of the notion, a sign of the emerging Russian-Egyptian alliance that swiftly followed a deterioration in US-Egypt ties.
While peace may not emerge from a meeting in Moscow between Abbas and Netanyahu, having the two leaders meet in one of the Kremlin’s gilded rooms will show the degree to which Russia’s influence in the Mideast has skyrocketed over the last eight years.
Leaders of France, Italy, Portugal, Malta and Cyprus are gathering in Athens on Friday (9 September) for an “EU-Med” mini-summit, which Greece’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras hopes will promote a left-wing answer to Europe’s multiple crises at next week’s Bratislava summit.
Tsipras said he hoped the meeting would help give weight to Europe’s southern states, which were worst hit by Europe’s many problems.
”We [the Mediterranean countries] are in the eye of the storm of the refugee crisis, the security crisis and terrorism, and the economic crisis. Today we have a north which accumulates surpluses and a south that suffers heavy deficits. There is no European convergence when such disparities exist,” Tspiras told Le Monde in an interview published on Thursday.
The Bratislava meeting is supposed to be a show of unity after the UK’s vote to leave the EU.
But Tspiras hopes that the southern gathering will help to prevent that discussions on the EU’s future are monopolised by the Visegrad group of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, who have said their proposal will be to roll back some of the EU’s powers, notably in the field of migration.
The Greek PM also wants to form a counterweight to Germany, and its belt-tightening agenda for the EU.
He said that the EU’s stability and growth pact was ”not the Gospel”, did not work in practice, and should be reviewed so that EU countries can create growth.
Senior German lawmakers already warned against a stronger role for what they call the ”Club Med” in the EU.
“I am deeply concerned that the southern EU countries will jointly form a strong coalition of reform-unwilling redistributors, threatening the financial stability in Europe,” German conservative MEP Markus Ferber told Die Welt.
The MEP said a strong and stable union was more essential than ever following the Brexit vote.
“After Britain’s departure, the ‘Club Med’ will have a blocking minority that can prevent all kinds of laws in Brussels that it does not like,” Ferber said.
Germany’s EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger was also worried about the Athens meeting.
“It would not be good if the divide deepened between EU member countries with big budget problems … and those with minimal fiscal issues,” he told the Passauer Neue Presse.
Part of Tsipras’ anti-austerity push will be to gather support for his country’s debt relief demands.
Also on Friday, eurozone ministers will examine Greece’s economic situation. Creditors, including the International Monetary Fund, say Greece will never manage to pay back its €328 billion, but Berlin has refused to open debt relief discussions before the German elections in 2017.
Daily Telegraph 11-Sep-16
It’s the key question on Brexit that we are still no nearer the answer to; just how accommodating are the Europeans prepared to be? Whether it’s trade or finance, the issues are much the same.
It is overwhelmingly in Europe’s interests to be as kind to Britain as possible. Commerce is two way, and if obstructions are put in the way, then both sides suffer. In a rational divorce, you’d want to make the process as smooth, amicable and undisruptive as you can. But as is often the case in marital break-ups, reason may be the very last thing on negotiators’ minds.
The appointment last week of the arch European federalist and Brit basher, Guy Verhofstadt, a former prime minister of Belgium, as the Brexit negotiator for the European parliament sends out the worse possible message. Many Europeans want to punish Britain for daring to leave. Even if it means the EU cutting off its nose to spite its face, Mr Verhofstadt is more than up for it.
Nowhere is the choice between the rational and the irrational more vividly illustrated than in the debate over the future of the City, a huge driver of wealth and tax revenues for the British economy. British success in finance tends to be coveted, envied, loathed and resented all in almost equal measure on the Continent. Brexit is seen as an opportunity to grab some of the action back from London.
Good luck on that, but as Philip Hammond, the UK Chancellor, pointed out in parliamentary testimony last week, any attempt to strip London of its dominant role in euro-denominated clearing, and force it on to the Continent instead, is very unlikely to benefit the eurozone. Much of the business would simply move to New York, the only other centre with the critical mass to apply the “compression” that has given London its competitive edge.
Algae can be engineered to hyper-produce hydrogen, a clean source of energy for cars and industry, too, say Tel Aviv scientists
You could be growing your own car fuel in some scummy green tank in your living room one day, with or without engineered fluorescent fish inside. No, you wouldn’t be gassing the car or powering the house with fish pee, but with hydrogen produced by engineered algae.
Hydrogen is widely touted as the fuel of the future and now Tel Aviv University scientists have made two crucial discoveries. One is how algae produce it. The other is how to make them produce more of it, so hydrogen can be mass-produced, cheaply, and used not only in public transportation but industry.
“For the last 12,000 years we have been using agriculture to make food, but when it comes to energy, we are still hunter gatherers. Agriculture for energy is the next revolution,” research leader Assistant Prof. Iftach Yacoby, head of the renewable energy laboratory at Tel Aviv University, tells Haaretz. “There are other ways to produce hydrogen, but this is the greenest, and is the only agricultural one.”
In two separate papers published in the international science press, the TAU team describes the discovery that algae produce hydrogen from photosynthesis, not in a microburst at dawn, as assumed until now, but all the time. Secondly and crucially, they have engineered a way to boost production nearly fivefold by genetic engineering.
In case that all sounds rather like a thriller starring a shaven-headed tattooed ex-con clad in inexplicably-sourced leather and armed with a vial of glowing green goo, think of this. The wheat we know and love isn’t the plant we began to cultivate 12,000 years ago. We changed it to enhance desirable traits. Doing the same to microalgae is next. If hydrogen-by-alga can be developed industrially, modern civilization could finally start getting over its addiction to oil, with all the geopolitical relief that would entail.
Making hydrogen all day long
Photosynthesis is a biochemical process by which competent plants, algae and bacteria convert light energy into chemical energy. Generally speaking, photoautotrophs start from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H20) that they first split into the composite atoms, carbon, oxygen and protons, using sunlight energy, then “cook” to make glucose sugar (C6H12O6).
When making sugar by photosynthesis, plants output some oxygen, chiefly during the day. The scientists worked with single-celled green algae and first of all discovered that in contrast to popular wisdom, algae produce hydrogen during the photosynthetic process all day, not in a brief burp at sunrise.
How could they be so wrong so long? A) “Because the amounts of hydrogen the algae produce at other times were miniscule,” Yacoby explains. “Highly sensitive machinery was necessary to discern it.” B) Also, the scientists had known that oxygen is deadly to a key stage in the algal hydrogen production process, which led them to a wrong assumption.
Oxygen stifles the relevant enzymes, called hydrogenases. They stop working, irreversibly, and scientists had assumed that the enzyme was simply not active in air-grown algae cells.
Actually, they discovered, the enzyme remains frisky and active inside oxygen-free zones inside the chloroplast (which is the organelle that contains the chlorophyll, the molecule central to photosynthesis). And thus the little alga continues to make hydrogen all day long.
Single-celled algae produce hydrogen all day, not in one dawn microburst, it turns out.TAU
More of a good thing
The next question was how to beef up production for industrial purposes. We clearly don’t need to engineer totally new hydrogenases that aren’t oxygen-sensitive, Yacoby explains to Haaretz.
What humanity needs is to get the algae to overproduce the enzyme and, as he explains, to reengineer it to have more power.
Currently most of the energy goes to sugar production, he explains. That is what the plant wants. We however would like most of the energy to be transferred to hydrogen production.
Why go through the trouble of engineering single-celled plants? Man knows how to produce hydrogen, doesn’t he?
He does, but not cleanly, Yacoby explains. “In the United States, 99% of the hydrogen produced is from natural gas.” Cracking natural gas for hydrogen is not a green process, is toxic as hell and is energetically inefficient. Producing hydrogen through electrolysis requires electricity – which is not always available from green sources.”
Biofuels are hardly the great white hope either. For one thing, when they’re burned (i.e., used,) we get carbon emissions. With hydrogen, the only emission is water vapor.
“Making ammonia for fertilizer so we can grow more corn so we can make more ethanol to fuel cars that pollute – this is not the most efficient practice one can perceive,” Yacoby remarks. “Hydrogen is the only blue energy – no carbon emission from the exhaust.”
He also points out that a hydrogen-powered car, and they exist commercially nowadays thanks to Toyota and now other car manufacturers, can run more than 500 kilometers on five kilos of hydrogen.
What about cost? Bioengineered algae sound expensive. The scientists have done the math and, says Yacoby, the production costs should be less than $4 per kilo of hydrogen, which, mileage-wise, is roughly equivalent to 10 liters of gasoline. National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado thinks hydrogen can be made using the algae method for around $3 per kilo.
By Jacques Delors
The Brexit vote has highlighted the need to restore the values that founded Europe in order to combat the rise of nationalism, populism and anti-European sentiment, writes Jacques Delors.
By Jacques Delors, former President of the European Commission and Honorary Citizen of Europe, in support of the statement “common-statement-a-new-europe-for-people-planet-and-prosperity-for-all” signed by 177 organisations.
The result of the British referendum vote on the EU is only the latest in a series of serious crises in Europe in recent years. It is a warning signal that shows the need to hold an essential debate about how we can restore the values that founded Europe and even strengthen those values to combat the rise of nationalism, populism and anti-European sentiment.
It is important to have the wellbeing of our planet and its people as the basis for our vision of Europe, rather than the stock market and purely nominal economic growth. This idea is actually nothing new: after the first Rio summit in 1992, we had already begun to build a Europe based on the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.
Since 1995, this vision has gradually been eroded to be replaced by an increasingly narrow focus on economic growth. As a result, Europe’s achievements as a world leader in environmental standards, the fight against climate change, health and consumer protection, eradication of poverty and promotion of human rights are no longer regarded as successes to celebrate but rather as red tape that must be eliminated in the interest of short-term economic gain.
Leaders gathering on 16 September in Bratislava to discuss the future of Europe must come forward with a new positive vision of Europe to re-engage with European citizens and regain their trust. This is what a group of 177 civil society organisations and trade unions, under the impulse of WWF, CONCORD, ETUC and the European Youth Forum, call for.
I am joining this call as I share their hope. For Europe to find new lease of life, careful attention should be paid to the younger generation, who in the UK and in the rest of Europe, share these values and feel European but no longer wish to engage as they have lost faith in traditional politics. It is this generation who more than any other can bring about a renewal of Europe and who must engage in this fight for a better world.
The debate on the EU’s future has now begun and we must ensure that Europe embraces transformational change, through the global agenda for sustainable development and the Paris climate agreement. A decisive change in policy direction is needed to translate these international commitments into action, in which people, planet, prosperity for all, and peace are at the forefront. It is up to Europe as the world’s largest economic player to lead the way with a bold and decisive overarching sustainable development implementation strategy that will guide all of its internal and external action for the coming decades.
In this time of crisis for European identity, it is essential for the EU to show that it is not paralysed but ready to act as a leading force in the many challenges we face: the fight against climate change, increasing inequality, the need to ensure sustainable and inclusive development, promoting human rights and ensuring that nobody is left behind.
We urge everyone, especially Europe’s youth, not to be spectators in the days and months ahead. We must be active participants in building a collective response to the challenges facing our continent and our world.
The Times 12-Sep-16 [Is biased against Israel. Don]
The Israeli army has started work on an underground wall along the Gaza border to stop Hamas militants from launching attacks through tunnels.
The $600 million project, which will cover the entire 37-mile border, will take years to complete.
The first section is being built along northern Gaza, near a cluster of Israeli villages where cranes and other construction equipment were visible over the weekend.
General Gadi Eizenkot, the Israeli army chief, said it was the largest project ever carried out by the engineering corps.
An above-ground barrier of concrete walls and barbed-wire fences already covers most of the frontier. Dozens of young Palestinians have managed to scramble over the fence this year, many looking for work, but the barrier has largely deterred Hamas from sending militants to the border during the three wars it has waged with Israel since 2009.
The group, which took control of Gaza in 2007, has instead relied on a network of underground tunnels. It attempted several attacks through the tunnels during the 2014 war, including a raid on an army post that killed five Israeli soldiers.
Israel blew up dozens of the passages, but Hamas has dug new ones, viewing them as its most important strategic asset.
The Israeli army believes that Hamas is constructing them at a rate of up to six miles per month in a territory that is just four miles wide in places.
Ismail Radwan, a senior member of Hamas, called the underground wall a sign of Israel’s “failure to deal with the tunnels”. At least five tunnels mysteriously collapsed earlier this year while under construction. Israel would not say whether it was involved.
The army did announce that it found two new tunnels this spring, both dug since the end of the war. The discovery of the second passage, in May, led to the worst cross-border exchange of fire in nearly two years.
The Israeli defence ministry said that the underground wall would be “tens of metres” deep. The first tunnel, discovered in April, was more than 30 metres below ground.
The tunnels have become a political issue for Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
Cabinet members have been rowing about whether the government took them seriously before the 2014 war — a seven-week conflict in which more than 2,200 Palestinians and 72 Israelis were killed.
The state comptroller, the Israeli government’s top auditor, will release a report into the tunnels later this year; a draft leaked in May suggests that it will blame Mr Netanyahu and other senior ministers for failing to respond to the threat.
Mr Netanyahu has spoken of his plan to “surround Israel with walls”. In July the defence ministry signed off on a new barrier along the northeastern border with Jordan, one of the last stretches that is not sealed off.
Israel is also building a new fence along the most southerly stretch of that border, while a barrier reaching along the Egyptian border was completed in 2013.
Media Line MidEast Daily News 12-Sep-16
The government of Israel has initiated a program of building in the Arab sector, signing an agreement with the heads of fifteen local municipal authorities that will allocate some 1.41 billion shekels (US$374 million) to the project along with approval to build 30,000 homes on public and private land. In addition to the housing, the government will spend millions of shekels to build amenities in the Arab municipalities including sports fields and communal structures. Israel’s housing minister placed the figure for housing needed in the Arab sector over the next 20 years at 200,000 units while the social justice minister, Gila Gamliel, explained that the building was part of a multi-faceted program to improve the quality of life of the Arab Israeli community.
RU-US-MSY:160912:(18-SEP-16):Russia may rise to super power status again following US deal over Syria
The Independent 12-Sep-16
Military partnership with the US could help Russia recover the superpower status it lost when the USSR broke up, and is a powerful incentive for it to cooperate in attacking a severely weakened Isis
Russia could be poised to beome a super power again after agreeing with the US to launch what amounts to a joint air campaign against the two main extreme Islamist groups in Syria. If the ceasefire that starts at sunset on Monday holds for seven consecutive days and the UN is able to deliver aid to besieged people in Aleppo, then the US and Russia will establish “a joint implementation centre” that will organise joint military targeting by American and Russian aircraft directed against Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda which has relabelled itself – with al-Qaeda publicly assenting to a break with its affiliate – as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
For the US and Russia to plan and implement what may be a lengthy air campaign in Syria is perhaps the most striking aspect of the deal announced in Geneva early on Saturday morning. If the plan goes ahead, it goes a long way towards elevating Russia back to the status of a superpower – at least in the Middle East – that it lost with fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Military partnership with the US, though in pursuit of the single objective of attacking Isis and al-Nusra, is a powerful incentive for Moscow to insist that the Syrian air force stop combat missions over all opposition areas, aside from those held by Isis.
The US and Russian aim is combat both “terrorist” movements, but it is difficult to see how the campaign will work. The plan is for moderate anti-Assad armed groups to decouple themselves from al-Nusra, which will then be targeted by air strikes. But, it is generally agreed that such moderate groups are thin on the ground in Syria and those that turn against their former allies in al-Nusra too abruptly may not live long enough to enjoy the protection of a US-Russian air umbrella. Nusra is not only well armed, organised and present in many parts of Syria, but it enjoys substantial political support from the Sunni Arab population. It will not be easy to weaken or eliminate.
There is a mysterious element in the US-Russian air campaign. Air strikes by both countries have been effective against Isis and al-Nusra, but they require ground troops to call in the air attacks against identifiable targets. For all their fanaticism, the extreme jihadis have not been able to withstand this type of bombardment and have suffered heavy casualties whenever they tried to do so, such as during the four-and-half month long siege of the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani in 2014/15 and in Ramadi and Fallujah. But in the new phase of the air war in Syria it is not clear who is going to provide the ground troops to cooperate with the massive air power overhead and occupy territory from which Isis has been driven.
Isis has become weaker over the past year. It won its last big victories in capturing Palmyra in Syria and Ramadi in Iraq in May 2015, and has since lost them both. More recently, it was drive out of Fallujah, which it had held for two-and-a-half years, by the Iraqi army backed by US-led air strikes. Last month, it lost its access to the outside world when the Turkish army sealed off the last strip of the Syrian-Turkish border open to it. But, though Isis is badly battered, it has not yet been decisively defeated. It has thousands of experienced fighters and can impact on the political agenda of the world by its terrorist attacks abroad.
Isis, despite its territorial losses in Syria, still holds Raqqa and a large part of the Euphrates valley. But the heart of the movement has always been in Iraq. It was its capture of Mosul in the summer of 2014 that enabled it to declare a caliphate and become a demonic new player on the world stage. Kurdish and Iraqi army forces are now gearing up for an attempt to recapture Mosul, by far the biggest population centre still held by Isis. If the movement cannot hold the city, then it overall power and influence in Syria and Iraq will be much reduced.
To assess the current mood in Mosul and discover how Isis is responding to the threat of attack, The Independent interviewed by email a local observer in the city, whose pseudonym is Hammad Abu Jasim. Given that Isis had just executed a woman and her daughter for talking by mobile phone from a high building in Mosul to relatives in Erbil, his discretion about his identity is understandable. It is worth quoting Abu Jasim at some length to give the flavour of what may the last days of Isis in Mosul.
There are signs of Isis moving its personnel within Mosul and out of the city. Abu Jasim says, “I saw a long queue of big vehicles carrying away the furniture, equipment and facilities of Mosul University colleges to other parts of the city and outside it. Daesh [Isis] intends to empty the public institutions in Mosul. In addition, it has launched a campaign against internet cafés in the last two days, and closed them if the owners have relatives outside Mosul.”
These are signs of nervousness by Isis. It is closing many of its military and security bases, presumably suspecting that their function is well known and they will be targeted by US-led air strikes. But more significant are signs that the financial resources of Isis are much reduced. Abu Jasim reports that “until last week, the families of Isis militants killed in the fighting were still receiving lump sums and salaries, but last week none were given. The families were told that their numbers were increasing and the caliphate’s resources decreasing, so they had to support it at this critical time.”
Several Isis fighters manning checkpoints have been shot by snipers, though the identity of their killers is unknown. Abu Jassim says that he knew one of those who was shot at midday near his house. Another officer was found dead in his office, leading to many civilians being arrested and Isis militants moved to more secure neighbourhoods defended by dozens of concrete checkpoints and barriers. Some locals, particularly traders who worked with Isis, are being given weapons, though Ahu Jasim says they are not loyal to Isis whom they secretly betray. But up to the end, Isis is enforcing its regulations with savage punishments. He says that “last week I witnesses a public whipping of people who were caught watching satellite television”. Isis is evidently, taking such steps as it can to meet the coming assault on Mosul, but there are limits to what it can do against enemies enjoying overwhelming military superiority.
UKB-US:160914:(18-SEP-16):Billion-dollar US tech company sets up European hub in London despite UK vote to leave EU
Daily Telegraph 14-Sep-16
Fears that the EU referendum result would prevent US technology companies from basing their European operations in the UK are set to be eased later today when a billion-dollar US technology company opens a new office in London.
Pivotal, a computer technology startup that teaches established companies to innovate in the way Silicon Valley start–ups do, will use its London office to work with European customers including Sainsbury’s and Volkswagen.
The private company – which is valued at $2.8bn (£2.1bn) – has won hundreds of millions in funding from investors including Ford, General Electric and Microsoft. Pivotal creates and runs software and analytics programs for its customers, and plans to have 200 employees in its London office by 2017.
The news comes as London Mayor Sadiq Khan is embarking on a five-day trade mission to the US and Canada, during which he plans to promote the capital as being “open for business”.
Pivotal’s UK hub will be located near Silicon Roundabout, London’s tech centre
Pivotal’s UK hub will be located near Silicon Roundabout, London’s tech centre Credit: Bloomberg
Rob Mee, chief executive of Pivotal, said London is a gateway to working with “Europe’s most storied companies” thanks to its history as “one of the world’s most important financial epicentres for centuries”.
“Pivotal is confident in the UK’s continued growth and innovation in the technology sector,” said Mr Mee. “Pivotal is currently experiencing strong growth and will continue expanding in the UK and across Europe as more companies look to our guidance in their digital transformations.”
Matt Hancock, the Minister for Digital and Culture, said: “We have worked hard to make the UK a vibrant, exciting and profitable place for tech business to locate and grow.
“It’s fantastic to hear Pivotal has decided to expand its team here. This latest investment is another significant boost to our thriving tech sector and will be instrumental in helping UK businesses boost their digital capabilities.”
UK-IS:160913:(18-SEP-16):Government’s support for Israel remains constant amid ‘seismic’ political changes, says Amber Rudd
Jewish Chronicle 13-Sep-16
Amber Rudd, the new Home Secretary, has pledged to combat antisemitism and said she understood British Jews’ feelings of fear and vulnerability.
Ms Rudd said Theresa May’s government would stand “steadfastly alongside Israel”.
Speaking at the annual fundraising dinner for the British Emunah charity, Ms Rudd spoke of the “seismic” changes in Britain since the EU Referendum in June.
But in last night’s address she added: “Throughout this period of political change, there has been a constant – the government’s commitment to the security of Israel and our unwavering determination to fight against the evils of antisemitism. Let there be no doubt, I will not stand for antisemitism or any form of hatred.”
In her first engagement with the Jewish community since taking on the role, Ms Rudd, who has been an MP since 2010, described her feelings on first visiting Israel four years ago.
The Conservative Friends of Israel trip had allowed her to learn “a great amount about the threats Israel faces on a daily basis.
“My visit was as uplifting as it was eye-opening, as we learnt about the newly established UK-Israel Tech Hub and the close collaboration between our two countries across many sectors, which has gone from strength to strength.”
Ms Rudd said that Britain would support Israel’s right to self-defence and would work towards a two-state solution.
On the domestic front she added: “The UK is not immune to the evil of antisemitism. I know that many in the Jewish community are feeling vulnerable and fearful.
“I stand before you tonight to reassure you that this government will never waiver in its determination to fight antisemitism.”
Ms Rudd concluded: “We are Great Britain because we are a proud, diverse society united by values such as democracy, free speech, mutual respect and opportunity for all. Hatred does not get a seat at the table, and we will do everything we can to stamp it out.”
The Guardian 13-Sep-16
Theresa May said it would not be right for the government ‘to give a running commentary’ on any progress made toward Brexit
Theresa May told parliament: ‘We will not take decisions until we are ready. We will not reveal our hand prematurely. And we will not provide a running commentary.’
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The big picture
So now we know (even if we’d long suspected it): we’re going to be kept in the dark. For the time being at least, the government is not going to be saying anything much about what its Brexit strategy will be, or how it is progressing.
Pressed repeatedly in parliament last week on the question of whether its preferred Brexit deal would include full membership of the EU’s single market, prime minister Theresa May could not have been much clearer (or more non-committal):
The new relationship will include control of the movement of people from the EU into the UK, and it will include the right deal for the trade in goods and services … It would not be right for me or this government to give a running commentary on negotiations.
In case there should be any doubt, she then said it again:
It is about developing our own British model. So we will not take decisions until we are ready. We will not reveal our hand prematurely. And we will not provide a running commentary.
Brexit minister David Davis went further, telling the House of Lords EU select committee that because the government did not want to give away its negotiating position he “may not be able to tell [parliament] everything” – even in private hearings:
I can entirely see accountability after the event, that’s very clear. [But] in advance, I don’t think it’s possible for parliamentarians to micro-manage the process and wouldn’t give us an optimum outcome for the country.
In the meantime, tantalising glimpses of what Brexit might imply in practice continue to emerge. Like the possibility that British citizens may have to apply for permission – and pay – to visit the continent.
The Guardian reported on Saturday that a planned EU visa waiver scheme based on the US ESTA system – which requires travellers to request advance authorisation to travel in exchange for a fee – could apply to British holidaymakers and business travellers after Brexit.
Asked by Andrew Marr on his Sunday morning TV show whether this could indeed be the case, the home secretary Amber Rudd, said that yes, it could:
I don’t think it’s particularly desirable, but we don’t rule it out because we have to be allowed a free hand to get the best negotiations. It’s a reminder that this is a two-way negotiation. The EU … will be considering their negotiations with us, just as we are with them.
Rudd also said the government was considering work permits for EU nationals in Britain as a possible way to control immigration.
Meanwhile, it seems one or two members – specifically, the hardcore Brexiters – of the cabinet are not yet fully on-board with the prime minister’s instructions to keep schtum, refrain from provide running commentaries and avoid revealing the government’s hand.
They also have a clear idea of the Brexit they want: hard, and fast. Davis needed putting in his place last week after he told MPs it was unlikely that Britain would stay in the single market. Downing Street said he was “expressing his personal opinion”.
Similarly, the international trade minister, Liam Fox, drew fire when he said British business had grown “fat and lazy” and company executives would rather play golf than get out and clinch the new export deals the country will need. Downing Street also pointedly declined to endorse his opinion.
Boris Johnson, finally, took the fairly remarkable step for a foreign minister of endorsing Change Britain, a new cross-party campaign of prominent pro-Brexit politicians (think Gisela Stuart and Michael Gove) aimed at pressuring the government into delivering on leaving the EU in the way they would like – namely gaining full control over “laws, borders, money and trade”.
(Change Britain, incidentally, ran into early difficulties after it quietly dropped one of the key pre-referendum pledges of its predecessor organisation Vote Leave: that Brexit could see an extra £350m a week spent on the NHS. Labour MPs instantly demanded the group “either admit it was a lie and apologise, or justify it and explain when it is coming”.)
Further increasing the pressure on May, the former culture secretary, John Whittingdale, said in an interview with the Telegraph that the prime minister should invoke article 50 – setting in motion the formal two-year leaving process – within weeks, rather than waiting until next year.
The view from Europe
And the pressure isn’t just coming from diehard Brexiters: May met the president of the European council, Donald Tusk, to discuss the UK’s future relationship with the remaining EU-27. Hinting at rising impatience on the continent, he told her Britain should get on with leaving as soon as possible: “The ball is in your court.”
Emmanuel Macron, the former banker and economy minister who is having a tilt at the French presidency, also said Britain should get out soon. What’s more, he told the Guardian that the City’s crucial passporting rights – which allow UK-based financial institutions to sell across the eurozone – wouldn’t be preserved unless the Britain contributes to the EU budget and that no concessions could be made on freedom of movement to boot.
The (in theory) pro-British Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen told Bloomberg he was urging his EU colleagues to make sure Britain doesn’t end up with a good deal:
We need to be extremely careful that the side that leaves doesn’t get particular competitive advantages on its way out. We all want a peaceful divorce, but when you agree to part ways – and in this situation, only one side wants to part ways – we need to protect our own interests first.
And to round off a great week, the European parliament – which will have to ratify any future Brexit deal – appointed “diehard European” Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian PM, to be its lead negotiator alongside former French minister Michel Barnier for the Commission.
Here’s what Verhofstadt had to say in July on the possibility of the UK retaining free market access while restricting freedom of movement:
The European parliament will never agree to a deal that de facto ends the free movement of people, while giving away an extra rebate in exchange for all the advantages of the internal market.
Meanwhile, back in Westminster
The shock (perhaps) of the week was obviously David Cameron’s decision to resign as an MP, after stepping down as the prime minister who called the Brexit referendum the day after he lost it.
Looking forward, away even from the direct squabbling over the balance of immigration versus trade and whether UK businesses are doing their bit, Brexit is arguably shaping the direction of British politics in other ways.
For example, the decision of Theresa May to announce a return to new grammar schools, picking a potentially tricky political fight over what some see as a marginal issue, has been rationalised by some as the prime minister seeking to assuage the right of her party, which might be about to see some disappointments over what Brexit actually ends up meaning.
There are also repercussions for Labour, with Owen Smith going further even than his previous promise to seek a referendum on the specific Brexit deal by suggesting a Labour government under him could one day reapply to join the EU.
Jeremy Corbyn, widely expected to beat Smith in the ongoing Labour leadership battle, has dismissed the idea of a new referendum, while his aides have gleefully pointed out that not even Smith’s main trade union supporter, the GMB, supports this.
That said, Corbyn’s own ideas on Brexit have caused some anguish in Labour, with disquiet among some MPs after their leader talked of the UK rejecting elements of the EU single market once Britain leaves the bloc.
You should also know that:
Britain’s economy will grind to a near standstill over the coming months as Brexit-related uncertainty triggers a slump in investment, the British Chambers of Commerce predicted.
The UK music industry pleaded with politicians to protect its status as one of the world’s biggest exporters of new music, pointing to its huge contribution to the economy through the success of artists like Adele and Sam Smith.
The chancellor, Philip Hammond, has embarked on a series of meetings with top City figures to reassure them over Brexit worries, reportedly promising they would not be subject to post-Brexit immigration curbs.
The founder of pub chain Wetherspoons, Tim Martin, had a good go at Cameron, FTSE 100 chief executives, the Bank of England governor, City economists, Goldman Sachs, the CBI, the International Monetary Fund and the OECD for their “entirely false” economic predictions.
Hate crime surged in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the second half of July – nearly a month after the EU referendum vote – according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council, up 58% rise compared with the previous year.
Spoilt for choice for supplementary reading again this week. Nick Cohen is on coruscating form for the Observer, arguing that the EU will never appease the “deluded Brexiters”:
Instead of facing up to the scale of the uncertainty, today’s Conservatives kid themselves as their ancestors did in the 1930s. Listen to Conservative ministers and read the rightwing press and delusion is on display everywhere … They don’t have a shred of evidence that the EU will appease us. Just a forlorn hope and an echo of voices from the time of the British appeasers.
Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister, has been analysing the implications of Brexit for trade with Peter Sutherland, the former founding director-general of the World Trade Organisation. In the Financial Times, he writes:
Brexit will make a deep mark on British life. Most importantly, it will upend our trading relationships with Europe and the rest of the world. Only 15% of UK total trade is with countries that are neither members of the EU, nor covered by an EU trade agreement that is in force or under negotiation … And where is the government on all of this? Not even at first base. Ministers must make their plans for Britain’s trading relationships clear as soon as possible. We are in the calm before the storm. Whatever form Brexit takes, it is going to be a rough ride.
Raphael Behr in the Guardian tackles the thorny issue of immigration, arguing the Brexiters haven’t a clue what to do:
The “points-based system” was always a phoney offer. It was clever shorthand for “non-racist yet rigorous-sounding alternative to the status quo” chosen because it seemed meritocratic (points are earned) and culturally digestible (Australia is a friendly, Anglophone cousin country) … Thus are we confronted with the Conservative Eurosceptics, tongue-tied but blinking smugly in the glare of referendum victory, holding a blank piece of paper where they should have answers on immigration.
And in Prospect magazine, Simon Tilford of the Centre for European Reform demonstrates that in his remarks about Britain not needing to be a member of it, David Davis shows he really does not understand the nature and importance of the EU’s single market to Britain’s economy:
He is plain wrong to contend that Single Market membership has no impact on UK trade with the rest of the EU. All the evidence suggests that the UK exports far more to the EU than can be explained by geographic proximity and income levels: the CER estimates that Britain’s membership of the Single Market has boosted British trade with the EU by 55%.
From world leader to the wilderness in just under three months.
David Cameron, the former British Prime Minister, has announced he will stand down as a member of Parliament for his constituency of Witney immediately, triggering a by-election.
Cameron, who has served in Parliament since 2001, stepped down as Prime Minister in the aftermath of June’s Brexit vote in which the UK decided to leave the European Union.
He had previously said that he was “keen to continue” in his role as a backbench MP after stepping away from Downing Street but has since decided such a role is untenable.
“In my view, the circumstances of my resignation as Prime Minister and the realities of modern politics make it very difficult to continue on the backbenches without the risk of becoming a diversion to the important decisions that lie ahead for my successor in Downing Street and the Government,” he said in a statement Monday.
“I fully support Theresa May and have every confidence that Britain will thrive under her strong leadership.
“I now look forward to a life outside of Westminster, but hope to continue to play a part in public service and to make a real and useful contribution to the country I love.”
Cameron, 49, became Conservative leader in 2005 and Prime Minister in 2010.
He said he had conferred with his successor before making his decision public.
“I spoke to Theresa May and she was very understanding about this decision,” Cameron told ITV.
“I support her. I support what she’s doing. She’s got off to a cracking start. Obviously I’m going to have my own views about different issues; people would know that. And that’s really the point.
“As a former prime minister it is very difficult, I think, to sit as a backbencher and not be an enormous diversion and distraction from what the government is doing.
“I don’t want to be that distraction. I want Witney to have an MP that can play a full role in parliamentary and political life in a way that I think I would find very difficult, if not impossible.”
Under Cameron’s leadership, the Conservatives won the 2010 general election, ending Labour’s 13 years in government, although the party was forced into entering a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats.
During his time as Prime Minister, he introduced same-sex marriage in 2013 and held off the threat of Scottish independence after a referendum in 2014.
He led the party to a second consecutive election victory last year but had already declared that he had no intention of staying on for a third term in office.
In the end, Cameron’s undoing was his belief that he could end the constant infighting within the Conservative Party over the UK’s position in Europe.
His decision to call a referendum proved an unnecessary and costly gamble.
He attempted to use the economy to persuade voters that remaining in Europe would be best for Britain. But “Project Fear,” as it was dubbed by his opponents, failed to resonate with a divided country.
“I’m sure I will be remembered for keeping that pledge to hold a referendum when many people thought that promise would never be kept,” he told ITV.
“But I hope that people will look back at the 11 years I was leader of the Conservative Party and six years as Prime Minister of our country as a time when we did create a stronger economy — 1,000 people found work for every day I was prime minister — and we did make some important social reforms … and the Conservative Party went from being in the doldrums and getting beaten to being a modernizing, winning force in British politics.
“But the historians will have to work all that out. I obviously now am going to be looking at a new life, but I’m only 49 — I hope I can still contribute in terms of public service and contribute to our country.”
May, who is now tasked with dealing with the fallout from Brexit, expressed pride in having served alongside her predecessor.
“I was proud to serve in David Cameron’s Government — and under his leadership we achieved great things,” May wrote on her Facebook Page.
“Not just stabilizing the economy, but also making great strides in delivering serious social reform.
“His commitment to lead a one nation Government is one that I will continue — and I thank him for everything he has done for the Conservative Party and the country. I wish him and his family well for the future.”
Cameron is now focusing on that future, and while he did not elaborate on his plans, he insisted he would not shy away from campaigning on the issues he is passionate about.
“The only firm decision I’ve made is to leave the House of Commons and stop being an MP — as I say, with a heavy heart, because I’ve loved the jobs but I don’t think it works for a former prime minister who resigned in my circumstances and with all the new government needs to do,” he added.
“Issues for the future. I’ll decide them in the future and, hopefully, as I say, continue to make some … public service contribution to this country. I want to continue campaigning on the local, national and indeed international issues that were part of my prime ministership where I think we made some good progress. There’s still a lot more to be done.”
New York Times 13-Sep-16
The golden main dome of a new Russian Orthodox cathedral now under construction on the banks of the Seine shimmers in the sun, towering over a Paris neighborhood studded with government buildings and foreign embassies. Most sensitive of all, it is being built beside a 19th-century palace that has been used to conceal some of the French presidency’s most closely guarded secrets.
The prime location, secured by the Russian state after years of lobbying by the Kremlin, is so close to so many snoop-worthy places that when Moscow first proposed a $100 million “spiritual and cultural center” there, France’s security services fretted that Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, a former K.G.B. officer, might have more than just religious outreach in mind.
Anxiety over whether the spiritual center might serve as a listening post, however, has obscured its principal and perhaps more intrusive role: an outsize display in the heart of Paris, the capital of the insistently secular French Republic, of Russia’s might as a religious power, not just a military one.
While tanks and artillery have been Russia’s weapons of choice to project its power into neighboring Ukraine and Georgia, Mr. Putin has also mobilized faith to expand the country’s reach and influence. A fervent foe of homosexuality and any attempt to put individual rights above those of family, community or nation, the Russian Orthodox Church helps project Russia as the natural ally of all those who pine for a more secure, illiberal world free from the tradition-crushing rush of globalization, multiculturalism and women’s and gay rights.
The cathedral under construction in Paris. The prime location was secured by the Russian state after years of lobbying by the Kremlin. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times
Thanks to a close alliance between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin, religion has proved a particularly powerful tool in former Soviet lands like Moldova, where senior priests loyal to the Moscow church hierarchy have campaigned tirelessly to block their country’s integration with the West. Priests in Montenegro, meanwhile have spearheaded efforts to derail their country’s plans to join NATO.
But faith has also helped Mr. Putin amplify Russia’s voice farther west, with the church leading a push into resolutely secular members of the European Union like France.
The most visible sign of this is the new Kremlin-financed spiritual center here near the Eiffel Tower, now so closely associated with Mr. Putin that France’s former culture minister, Frederic Mitterrand, suggested that it be called “St. Vladimir’s.”
But the Russian church’s push in Europe has taken an even more aggressive turn in Nice, on the French Riviera, where in February it tried to seize a private Orthodox cemetery, the latest episode in a long campaign to grab up church real estate controlled by rivals to Moscow’s religious hierarchy.
“They are advancing pawns here and everywhere; they want to show that there is only one Russia, the Russia of Putin,” said Alexis Obolensky, vice president of the Association Culturelle Orthodoxe Russe de Nice, a group of French believers, many of them descendants of White Russians who fled Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. They want nothing to do with a Moscow-based church leadership headed by Kirill, patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, a close ally of the Russian president.
A Broader Push
The French Orthodox association is instead loyal to the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, a rival church leadership in Istanbul that has provided a haven for many of Mr. Putin’s churchgoing foes. After a long legal battle with Moscow, Mr. Obolensky’s association in 2013 lost control of Nice’s Orthodox cathedral, St. Nicholas, to the Moscow Patriarchate, which installed its own priests and rallied the faithful behind projects to warm France’s frosty relations with Russia.
When Russian church staff and their lay French supporters broke into the Nice Orthodox cemetery in February and declared it Russian property, allies of Mr. Obolensky hoisted a banner on the iron gate: “Hands off, Mr. Putin. We are not in Crimea or Ukraine. Let our dead rest in peace.”
Moscow’s quest to gain control of churches and graves dating from czarist times and squeeze out believers who look to the Constantinople patriarch is part of a broader push by the Kremlin to assert itself as both the legitimate heir to and master of “Holy Russia,” and as a champion of traditional values against the decadent heresies, notably liberal democracy, promoted by the United States and what they frequently call “Gayropa.”
“The church has become an instrument of the Russian state. It is used to extend and legitimize the interests of the Kremlin,” said Sergei Chapnin, who is the former editor of the official journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church and affiliated churches outside Russia.
Unlike the Catholic Church, which has a single, undisputed leader, the pope in Rome, the Orthodox or Eastern branch of Christianity is divided into more than a dozen self-governing provinces, each with its own patriarch. The biggest of these, the Russian Orthodox Church, covers not only Russia, but also fragile new states like Moldova that formerly belonged to the Russian and later Soviet empires.
“We have been independent for 25 years but our church is still dependent on Moscow,” complained Iurie Leanca, a former prime minister of Moldova, who in 2014 signed a trade and political pact with the European Union that the church and the Kremlin worked hard to derail.
CV-CM:160914:(18-SEP-16):Austrian cardinal tipped to be the next pope warns of an ‘Islamic conquest of Europe’
Daily Telegraph 14-Sep-16
An Austrian cardinal who is one of the frontrunners to be the next pope has warned of an “Islamic conquest of Europe”.
According to reports of his speech to mark the 333rd anniversary of the Battle of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said: “Will there be an Islamic conquest of Europe? Many Muslims want that and say: Europe is at its end.”
“God have mercy on Europe and on thy people, who are in danger of forfeiting our Christian heritage,” the cardinal reportedly prayed.
He claimed that this was already being felt “not only economically, but above all, in human and religious matters”.
The speech was made on Sunday at the “Holy Name of Mary” church festival, which marked the 333rd anniversary of the Battle of Vienna in 1683 in which Christian forces defeated the Ottoman Empire army.
Cardinal Schönborn, 71, is a conservative who was a former student of Pope Benedict XVI – and has even been referred to as the former pope’s “spritual son”.
Last year, the Austrian parliament adopted legislation amending laws on Muslim organisations to ban foreign sources of financing and require imams to be able to speak German.
The law aims to promote what conservative Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz called an “Islam of European character”, by muting the influence of foreign Muslim nations and organisations, but giving Austrian Muslims more legal security in practising their faith.
In April this year, the parliament passed a controversial, hardline new law to restrict the right of asylum, allowing authorities to reject most claimants at the border.
The government is now able to declare a “state of emergency” over the migrant crisis and limit any successful asylum claim to three years.
Austrian police stage riot drills as the country prepares to ‘apply the brakes’ on immigration Play! 01:15
Austria’s main political parties on Tuesday proposed holding the country’s presidential election re-run on December 4, after it was delayed because of a problem with the glue on postal votes.
The last election result from May was annulled after Austria’s highest court in July upheld the narrowly defeated far-right’s claims of procedural irregularities.
And in a fresh twist, the government was on Monday forced to postpone October’s planned re-run after it emerged that the envelopes for postal votes were not sticky enough, meaning they could easily be reopened.
In the May election, Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) narrowly lost by just 31,000 votes to independent ecologist Alexander Van der Bellen.
If he wins this time, Hofer would become Europe’s first far-right head of state since 1945.
The role of Austria’s president is largely ceremonial but not entirely. He or she can in theory sack the government – something that Hofer has in the past threatened he would do.
The European Union needs a military headquarters to work towards a common military force, the Commission president has told MEPs in Strasbourg.
Jean-Claude Juncker said the lack of a “permanent structure” resulted in money being wasted on missions.
Part of his annual state of the union address was devoted to the UK’s unexpected vote to leave the EU.
He insisted that the bloc was not at risk but called for Brexit negotiations to take place as quickly as possible.
Modelled on the state of the union address by the US president, the Commission president’s annual speech was introduced in 2010 to detail the state of the EU and future legislative plans.
Won’t a common military force interfere with Nato?
The Brexit vote has given added impetus to plans for greater defence co-operation, because the UK has always objected to the potential conflict of interest with Nato.
But Mr Juncker said a common military force “should be in complement to Nato”. “More defence in Europe doesn’t mean less transatlantic solidarity.”
A European Defence Fund would stimulate military research and development, he said.
All EU members have military forces; most are also members of Nato; and several have extensive experience of operations abroad, from peace-keeping to war-fighting.
The real question is how to organise these component parts to get greater security. Mr Juncker insists that the EU must have a role here.
He wants to improve EU command and control facilities and appears to be suggesting that EU civil and military aspects of a given mission should be run out of the same headquarters.
He also insists that whatever the EU does it should not detract from Nato. But defence resources are finite. His critics will say nothing should be done that duplicates existing Nato activities, as that sends a signal of disarray in Western ranks to Moscow.
What sort of missions does the EU run?
Since 2003 the EU has launched some 30 civilian and military operations in Europe, Africa and Asia – under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Sixteen are still going on, including six military operations::
Its mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina oversees the implementation of the 1995 Dayton Agreement which ended the Balkan Wars. It replaced Nato forces in 2004
Counter-piracy operation Atalanta began off the coast of Somalia in 2008
In 2015, Operation Sophia began targeting migrant-traffickers in the Mediterranean
The EU also has military training programmes in Somalia, Mali and the Central African Republic
What did we learn on Brexit?
On future Brexit negotiations, Mr Juncker warned that the UK could only have unlimited access to the single market if it accepted free movement of people and goods. “There can be no a la carte access to the single market,” he said.
The single market has dominated the Brexit debate in the UK.
Prime Minister Theresa May distanced herself last week from remarks by Brexit minister David Davis, when he said remaining in the single market would be “very improbable” if it meant giving up control of British borders.
What was Juncker’s main message? By BBC Europe Editor Katya Adler
Jean-Claude Juncker and his team agonised over the wording of Wednesday’s speech.
The UK’s vote to leave the EU is undoubtedly one of the biggest crises the bloc has ever faced but Mr Juncker was determined not to dwell on it.
Jean-Claude Juncker: No “a la carte” access to EU internal market for UK
There were few words on Brexit. His main message: “The European project continues. Let’s choose to look forward. Be positive.”
Applause resounded around the chamber of the European Parliament but how will the voters outside react?
Are they even listening? The drumbeat of nationalist, Eurosceptic populism reverberates around the continent.
Public trust in the establishment is low – whether traditional politicians, bankers or EU bureaucrats – and Mr Juncker is an unelected president.
What else did he say?
Mr Juncker admitted the EU was facing an “existential crisis”, and he also warned that splits in the union had left space for “galloping populism”.
In a blunt criticism of recent attacks on immigrants in the UK, he said he would “never accept Polish workers being beaten up, harassed or even murdered on the streets of Essex”.
Mr Juncker said the EU had to deliver “concrete results” including:
Maintaining stability and sharing the burden of economic downturn, such as doubling investment in the EU to €500bn (£425bn; $560bn) in the next five years and creating an investment fund for Africa
Creating solidarity in the Union – such as protecting unaccompanied minors migrating to the EU – but Mr Juncker said this must “come from the heart” and could not “be forced or imposed”
Promoting security including strengthening the EU’s borders and promoting greater security co-operation between member states, as well as greater military centralisation.
He urged a renewed focus on the EU as a “driving force that can bring about unification, for instance in Cyprus”.
How did MEPs react?
Anti-EU MEPs lined up to criticise Mr Juncker’s rallying cry:
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said it was “the usual recipe: more Europe, in this particular case, more military Europe”
Peter Lundgren of the anti-migrant Sweden Democrats said his country had always been neutral militarily. “We don’t want to be forced into this type of military co-operation,” he said
But Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s lead negotiator on Brexit, said the EU still offered the “cure” for “the cancer of nationalism”
Israel Defense 15-Sep-16
Will the underground wall project along the Gaza Strip end up like the Bar-Lev Line did? What is the actual significance of Russia’s recent moves and the aid agreement signed with the USA? All will be revealed in Amir Rapaport’s weekly column
The history of the State of Israel included quite a few fateful (and costly) decisions that were made pursuant to a minimal public discussion or with no public discussion at all.
As always, history repeats itself: an ambitious project involving an underground concrete wall around the Gaza Strip has been launched recently. Although this project could evolve into one of the costliest projects in Israel’s history, and although the doubts and concerns regarding its effectiveness are just as deep as the wall itself – the public debate around this project is minimal. It is fair to say that very few people are aware of the project’s existence. Here are a few details about this giant project.
The wall in question is intended to surround the entire Gaza Strip – a 60 km circumference. It will reach a depth of dozens of meters.
A minimal trial section will be erected initially, at the cost of not less than 600 million ILS. One half of the funding will come from the budget of the Ministry of Defense while the other half will be provided through a special budget of the Ministry of Finance. The progress rate of the construction process, at best, will be as planned. Even if the rate improves over time, a long period of time will be required in order to complete the wall. The total cost will amount to billions – many billions.
The wall project is associated – quite naturally – with the attempts to find a solution to the underground tunnel threat. This threat has been in existence for decades and billions have been spent in an attempt to provide a solution for it through a countless number of ideas (for example, the planting of thousands of underground sensors). The change brought about by Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 was the realization that the tunnels are no longer just a “nuisance”, but an acute and substantial threat that could lead the inhabitants of the Jewish settlements around the Gaza Strip to abandon their homes.
So, in the two years that have passed since Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli defense establishment promoted dozens of programs in an attempt to find a solution to the tunnel threat, including a project led by Elbit Systems. Other technological and operational efforts were made in connection with the tunnel threat. Some were effective, others were not. We are unable to elaborate, for obvious reasons.
The decision to opt for the construction of an underground wall was quite a surprise. In order to build the wall, specialized equipment was acquired, capable of excavating and pouring in massive amounts of concrete. The decision was made by the government secretly. Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman is pushing the project vigorously. Nevertheless, within the defense establishment, support for the project is far less than massive.
What are the pros? The factor that led to the decision to build the wall under the ground was the concept of certain parties within the Ministry of Defense, according to which eventually, a physical barrier provides security. The fence systems along the majority of the “Green Line” and along the border with Egypt in the south are regarded as a success. The person in charge of these project, who believes in fence systems with all his heart, is the oldest-serving regular IDF officer – Brig. Gen. Eran Ophir.
However, there is a big difference between a fence rising to a height of a few meters above the ground and a concrete wall under the ground. For this reason, quite a few parties within the defense establishment, including IDF and MAFAT (IMOD’s Weapon System and Technological Infrastructure Research & Development Administration), object to this project. Their voices cannot be heard as no public discussion is being conducted with regard to this issue.
So, the project has been launched while it is still unclear where it is headed: if the trial fails, 600 million ILS will go down the drain. If it succeeds – massive budgets will be required, on the scale of nation-wide projects dating back to the early days of the State of Israel, like the Israel National Water Carrier.
Apparently, the process of erecting the concrete wall will involve the planting of quite a few sophisticated sensors, but the major concern is that the tunnel diggers of Hamas will be able to penetrate the wall while the IDF is unable to spot all of the points where the wall had been breached.
The vigorous operations associated with the trial section of the wall are clearly visible near the Gaza Strip. In accordance with the challenge, the engineering equipment being used is of monstrous proportions. The company awarded the lion’s share of the construction budget for the trial section is Solel Boneh. In the event that a decision is made to complete the wall around the entire circumference of the Gaza Strip, three different contractors will be selected through a tender, and subsequently ordered to work simultaneously.
The giant scope of this project has led to the emergence of a strong lobby of defense industries and construction companies that are keenly interested in the very existence of the project. The project is also intended to calm the justifiable concerns of the inhabitants of the southern region with regard to the tunnel threat. It can help the government relieve the political pressure calling it to “do everything possible” to find a solution to the tunnel threat. But will the Gaza Wall be an effective defensive wall? Far from certain.
Israel Defense 15-Sep-16
Here is another move of considerable regional importance that has received only minimum attention from the media: in view of the forthcoming overbalance in the civil war in Syria, the Russians are pursuing an initiative to establish a permanent airbase on Syrian soil.
The person who aimed the spotlight at the application submitted to the Russian parliament to authorize the establishment of the new airbase is Jacob (Yasha) Kedmi, formerly the head of the Nativ organization in the USSR. According to Kedmi, from a strategic viewpoint, the permanent base will be able to provide an aerial umbrella for Russian naval vessels operating in the Mediterranean Sea (some of which are docked at the established Russian naval base in Lattakia). This will change the region profoundly.
In addition to the establishment of the airbase (as opposed to deploying Russian aircraft to a temporary airbase in Syria, which had taken place many months ago), the Russians have been conducting extensive naval maneuvers over the last few days with the Chinese Navy. So, while world attention was drawn last week to the agreement that had been reached (or not) by the USA and Russia regarding a ceasefire in the civil war in Syria, it seems that the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is taking advantage of the pre-election period that has paralyzed the American government in order to make military moves of strategic significance across the globe.
British defence minister Michael Fallon has said the UK would veto the creation of EU military capabilities so long as it remained a member of the bloc.
Reacting to ideas on closer EU defence cooperation, discussed at the Bratislava summit on Friday (16 September), he told The Times, a British newspaper: “That is not going to happen”.
“We are full members of the EU and we will go on resisting any attempt to set up a rival to Nato”.
He said Britain had always “been concerned about unnecessarily duplicating what we already have in Nato”.
He added that: “We will go on being committed to the security of the European continent … We are not going to back out of our commitment to keeping Europe secure, but we don’t want to see unnecessary bureaucracy at the EU level when we have got it in Nato”.
The remaining 27 EU leaders met in the Slovak capital without the UK in the first such format since the Brexit referendum in June.
Proposals for what Germany has called an EU “defence union” and others have called an “EU army” included the creation of an EU military HQ, with medical aid and logistics capabilities, that would command EU crisis missions.
The operations, such as the naval anti-pirate mission, Atalanta, in the Gulf of Aden, are currently commanded by individual member states.
The proposals, endorsed by France and Germany and by the European Commission, also included joint EU defence budgets, shared military satellite surveillance, and joint procurement of high-tech equipment, such as drones.
UK exit negotiations are expected to start in early 2017 and to last at least two years, with the UK retaining its full rights in the EU Council during that period.
The talks are likely to centre on EU migrants and Britain’s access to the single market, but risk being bedevilled by side issues.
For his part, Andrew Duff, an expert at the European Policy Centre, a think tank in Brussels, and a former British MEP for the Liberal party, said the UK overestimated its unilateral military power.
“One understands more and more why Britain was just no good at being in the EU: It can’t defend itself yet will block plans for European army”, he said on Twitter.
Steven Blockmans, a Belgian scholar of EU affairs at the Centre for European Policy Studies, another Brussels think tank, said the UK would “hamper [its] own exit deal by vetoing” EU defence plans.
The Trumpet 17-Sep-16
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, warned of an “Islamic Conquest of Europe” on September 11. He was speaking on the 333rd anniversary of the Battle of Vienna, when the Christian nations of Europe joined forces to prevent the Muslim Ottomans taking Vienna and continuing their expansion in Europe. “Will there now be a third attempt at an Islamic conquest of Europe?” he asked. “Many Muslims want that and say, ‘Europe is at its end.’”| “God have mercy on Europe and on thy people, who are in danger of forfeiting our Christian heritage,” he prayed, according to local media reports. He continued:
Lord, remember, it is your people. And if we have strayed and if we have squandered the inheritance, Lord, do not abandon us! Do not abandon this Europe, which has produced so many saints. Do not abandon us, because we have become lukewarm in our faith.
Schönborn is a former pupil of the former Pope Benedict xvi. His comments come as Pope Francis made one of his strongest speeches yet against radical Islam.
“Today there are Christians murdered, tortured, imprisoned, slaughtered because they do not deny Jesus Christ,” the pope said on September 14.
Discussing Jacques Hamel, the French priest murdered by two Islamic State supporting terrorists on July 26, the pope said that “to kill in the name of God is satanic.”
Christian Today reported: “Pope Francis has signaled that he is preparing to canonize” Hamel. They note that, as a martyr, Hamel could be canonized without the church’s usual requirement of performing two miracles.
UKB-EU:160901:(18-SEP-16):Britain WILL remain the financial centre of Europe despite Brexit, pro-EU banker claims
The Express 01-Sep-16
BRITAIN will still be Europe’s financial hub for at least the next decade despite voting to leave the European Union, according to a pro-Brussels banker.
London will remain the financial hub of Europe
John Cryan said that despite the pre-Brexit doom-mongering that the UK’s financial sector would nosedive as a result of leaving the EU, Britain’s capital will continue to be the banking centre.
The English head of German giant Deutsche Bank was initially against Brexit in the run-up to the referendum but has now changed his opinion.
The banking boss has argued that London’s role will be “very different” but will remain at the centre of world finance.
He said: “We really need to follow our customers. In some areas London is our biggest trading hub.”
Mr Cryan also ordered the EU to re-engage with its citizens and become relevant to the 21st century.
He has also joined the long list of experts to claim the EU must reform in the wake of Brexit and criticised the European Central Bank’s move to negative interest rates.
But the Deutsche Bank boss said some business could be redirected to the continent, especially trading related to the Euro.
It comes as Theresa May addressed her cabinet and set out her plans to leave the European Union.
The Tory boss ruled out a second referendum and said curbing the number of EU migrants entering Britain is non-negotiable.
She said: “We’ll be looking at the next steps that we need to take, and we’ll also be looking at the opportunities that are now open to us as we forge a new role for the UK in the world.
May spoke at Chequers yesterday about the future of Brexit
Britain has voted to leave the EU. So who’s next? We look at which European countries want to hold their own EU referendum.
“That means there’s no second referendum; no attempts to sort of stay in the EU by the back door; that we’re actually going to deliver on this.”
Mrs May said “quite a lot of work” had already been done over the summer on preparing the way for exit negotiations under Article 50 of the EU treaties.
She told colleagues it was “a very significant moment for the country, as we look ahead to the next steps that we need to take”.
Royal Russia 17-Sep-16
On September 8th, a bust of the last Russian emperor Nicholas II was unveiled near the entrance to the Office of the Prosecutor General in Crimean city of Simferopol.
The bust is mounted on a pedestal in front of a small memorial chapel, which was constructed on the donations of employees of the department in honour of the Holy Royal Martyrs – Nicholas II and his family.
The building houses the office of Natalia Poklonskaya. In recent years, Crimea’s Prosecutor General has repeatedly demonstrated her admiration for Russia’s last emperor:
– July 2016 Poklonskaya presented a new portrait of the last Russian Imperial family to Livadia Palace
– May 2016 Poklonskaya took part in a procession carrying an icon of Saint Nicholas II Tsar-Martyr of Russia
– October 2014 Poklonskaya presented 80 photoraphs of Emperor Nicholas II to the Livadia Palace-Museum
– On 20th July, 2014 Poklonskaya was awarded the Imperial Order of Saint Anastasia during a ceremony in Moscow by the Head of the Russian Imperial House, HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna
The bust in Simferopol is one of several monuments to Nicholas II in the Crimea:
– May 2016 a bust of Emperor Nicholas II was unveiled in Yalta
– May 2015 a bust of Emperor Nicholas II was unveiled at the Livadia Palace
– December 2014 a bust of Emperor Nicholas II was unveiled in Sevastopol
– September 2012 a monument to Emperor Nicholas II and Prince Lev Golitsyn was unveiled at Massandra in the village of Novy Svet
The Independent 17-Sep-16
For as long as the UK is a member of the EU, it will block plans for an EU army, says Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon.
The UK would exercise its power of veto to block the creation of an EU army while it remains a member of the European Union, according to Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has spoken of the possibility of a “common military force” at a meeting of EU leaders in Bratislava, to which Britain was not invited.
Sir Michael told The Times newspaper. “That is not going to happen. We are full members of the EU and we will go on resisting any attempt to set up a rival to Nato.”
European leaders push Angela Merkel for joint EU army
A document discussed at the Bratislava summit indicates the European Commission will put forward proposals in December for a common military force, for which agreement will be sought in the summer.
France and Germany are understood to be behind the proposals. Europe’s defence ministers are due to meet next week and are expected to discuss the issue.
“We have always been concerned about unnecessarily duplicating what we already have in Nato,” Sir Michael said. The veto threat will further poison British relations with Brussels after the Brexit vote and harden attitudes in Germany and France against giving Theresa May concessions on access to Europe’s single market.
Diplomatic relations between the UK and the EU are already fraught. The UK vetoing significant EU policy while it simultaneously negotiates its exit from the union could have significant consequences.
All previous steps toward creating a common EU military force have been vetoed by Britain.
The most recent proposals, drafted by President Juncker, call on the EU to “establish permanent, structured co-operation in defence, including the creation of common battle groups to carry out military intervention in crises”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the UK’s input on the issue would be sought via talks between Theresa May and European Council President Donald Tusk. “We need more co-operation, particularly in the area of defence, and a lot more needs to be done on the Franco-German plan,” she said. “The UK remains a member of the EU and all of these issues have to be discussed.”
At a press conference with Mrs Merkel, President Hollande of France said: “The UK still has responsibilities.”
The Baltic states, where Nato battalions are currently in operation, are uneasy about the possibilty of an EU army that could replace Nato. Sir Michael has pledged extra troops for Nato battalions in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and eastern Poland.
“We will go on being committed to the security of the European continent,” he said. “We are not going to back out of our commitment to keeping Europe secure but we don’t want to see unnecessary bureaucracy at the EU level when we have got it in Nato.”
UKB-IS-EU:160917:(18-SEP-16):Brexit may be an opportunity for Britain and Israel, but the EU’s collapse would be terrible
Daily Telegraph 17-Sep-16
The process of the UK separating itself from the EU will be long and complicated. One way of illuminating the possible implications of this “leap into the dark” is by examining the likely shape of the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the State of Israel – a proudly independent country with a dynamic globally engaged economy, which nonetheless maintains a deep relationship with the EU and which is at the sharp end of the major challenges to global security.
Although Britain’s policy towards Israel has not primarily been driven by its membership in the EU, the relationship is likely to improve post-Brexit. The bilateral relationship with Israel has always been more favourable than its relationship with Israel mediated through the EU framework. Prime Ministers from Tony Blair onward have considered Israeli and British security to be linked due to the threat posed by radical Islamists. However UK support for Israel – especially regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – was sometimes negotiated away on a multilateral level due to other priorities within the EU. With Brexit that factor will be removed.
Jeremy Corbyn is ‘naive’ on Middle East and fighting Isil, says Israeli Labour Party leader Play! 01:27
The post-Brexit reality will also likely incentivise the UK to search for economic partners outside the EU and Israel could become an attractive option due in part to its innovative hi-tech sector. Despite the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, (and in some instances in response to that campaign) the economic relationship between the countries has increased over the last decade, with greater levels of trade and scientific cooperation. However, it is not clear how much of this relationship will have to be renegotiated as significant elements of the economic relationship are defined via multilateral agreements with the EU.
Some are suggesting that Israel’s current relationship with the EU – which includes more positive agreements than with any other non-EU country and which includes a free trade agreement without freedom of movement – could be an appealing model for a future UK – EU relationship. However, EU-Israel agreements do not touch on the financial sector, which is a key economic issue for the UK.
Israel’s relations with the EU are also largely insulated from the referendum result. On the one hand, Israel will lose the UK as a voice raising Israeli security concerns in Brussels. On the other hand, the prioritisation of the economic and migrant crises within Europe means that the EU will have less energy for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Economic pragmatism is likely to weight more heavily than ideology. For example, the Greek government led by a far-left wing party – which supported BDS while in opposition – now has very close relations with Israel as it sees Israeli tourists as helping the stuttering Greek economy while also viewing Israel as a potential partner for energy co-operation in the Mediterranean.
Security cooperation is also likely to continue. The UK and European states face the significant threat from the return of foreign fighters from Syria and can learn much from how democratic Israel has coped with the threat of home-grown terrorism. Israel also needs to do its bit to help facilitate security cooperation with European countries by maintaining the credibility of its underlying commitment to a two-state solution. But in return it will expect the EU to show greater understanding of the threats it faces. For example, Hezbollah has 100,000 rockets that could do serious damage to parts of Israel’s vital infrastructure and lead to a war with huge civilian casualties on both sides of the Lebanese border. Yet, whereas the Arab League recognizes both Hezbollah’s ‘political’ and military wings as terrorist organisations, the EU continues to view its “political” wing as legitimate.
From Israel’s perspective, the weakening of the EU Commission’s federalist vision is not necessarily negative. In fact, it demonstrates that Israel is far from the only democracy that wants to be a nation state. However, the weakening of the EU, NATO, and a more isolationist US would be strategically problematic for both Israel and the UK, because that vacuum would be filled by Russia, Iran, China, and groups such as Isil. A US Administration ambivalent about a weakening NATO – perhaps under a Trump Presidency – coupled with an EU that ultimately breaks up into its component parts, would pose significant challenges for both countries.
The National 18-Sep-16 [UAE. Don]
I first visited the UAE in 1993 when much of what we see around us today was an ambitious – and some would have said unachievable – vision in the eyes of the UAE’s leaders. Since then, I have come to know the UAE well and admired its remarkable evolution. Dubai alone, which 50 years ago had a population of only 40,000, has become a truly global city with architectural feats that push the boundaries of what is possible. The UAE has become an international hub serving the world, not just the Middle East.
I learnt during my time as defence secretary just how important and broad the ties are between the UK and UAE: the security of both our peoples really depends on that bond.
And just as our defence cooperation promotes mutual security, our trade ties deliver mutual prosperity. The figures speak for themselves. The UAE is the UK’s fourth largest market outside Europe. Our exports have increased 37 per cent since 2009. We achieved, two years early, the UAE-UK Business Council target of £12bn (DH57.3bn) in annual trade. Five thousand UK companies are active in the UAE.
It is no surprise, therefore, that I was determined to visit the UAE very early on in my tenure as secretary of state for international trade. I see lots of potential for further growth in our bilateral ties, and strongly support the Business Council’s new target of £25bn in annual trade by 2020.
I am also confident that the UK’s departure from the EU will bring new opportunities for our partnership with the UAE. But I understand that the prospect of change can be unsettling for some. Some have said that a vote to leave the EU was akin to the UK turning its back on free trade and towards isolationism. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The UK remains a member of the EU for now, until the formal process of exiting is completed. And we will continue to use that membership to push for further economic liberalisation across the EU. We want the EU to succeed – we just don’t want to be governed by it. As we leave, we intend to do so in a way that ensures minimal disruption for our European partners, with whom we will continue to have strong economic, political and security bonds. We are not leaving Europe; we are re-joining the rest of the world.
But let me also explain why I am optimistic about the future. The UK has the world’s fifth largest economy, which grew faster than all other major advanced economies in 2014, and faster than all except the US last year; a system of law which is globally respected (and used by both the Dubai International Financial Centre and Abu Dhabi Global Markets); record high levels of employment, and its lowest levels of unemployment since 2005; world-leading universities; and the world’s leading financial centre.
We are an entrepreneurial hub – more than 420,000 new businesses set up in 2015. We are the highest ranked major economy on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, and in the Cornell/WIPO Global Innovation Index. There are now over 3,000 companies in London’s Tech City. Four of the 10 European start-ups already worth £1bn are in the UK. The internet accounts for a higher proportion of the UK’s economy than for any other G20 member.
But don’t just take my word for the fundamental strength of the UK economy. Look at where international investors are putting their money. The UK remains the top European destination for foreign direct investment. And important new investments have been announced in the last few weeks since the Brexit referendum, for example from GlaxoSmithKline and Softbank. UK tourism and exports have already benefited markedly from the lower pound, which also boosted investor interest in some sectors.
The case is clear, and my message is simple: Britain is open for business, and will be more and more so. We now have a whole department at the heart of government whose sole task is to open markets and boost flows of trade and investment which will promote both UK and global prosperity.
The UAE has roundly disproven the doubts of those who scoffed at its vision two or three decades ago. Likewise, the United Kingdom will confound the sceptics and become the world’s brightest beacon of open markets.
Liam Fox is the UK’s secretary of state for international trade
Visit Don’s website here…. www.milestonesuk.org
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