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The Guardian 23-Aug-16
Britain’s shock referendum vote is very far from being the end of the EU, say leaders of its three largest countries by population, excluding the UK
The leaders of Italy, France and Germany have insisted that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union did not spell the beginning of the end for the bloc, pledging to revive it by bolstering EU security, boosting economic growth and giving the continent’s youth a future.
“Many thought the EU was finished after Brexit but that is not the case,” said Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi on Monday, as he welcomed the French president, François Hollande, and German chancellor, Angela Merkel, for a second mini-summit of the EU’s three largest countries by population, organised with the intention of plotting a new course for the union following the UK referendum.
Renzi continued: “We respect the choice made by the citizens of Britain but we want to write a future chapter. Europe after Brexit will relaunch the powerful ideals of unity and peace, freedom and dreams.”
The trilateral meeting came as the European commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, claimed at a forum in Austria that national borders were “the worst invention ever made by politicians,” prompting Theresa May’s spokeswoman to respond that the claim was “not something the prime minister would agree with”.
Renzi greeted Hollande and Merkel at Naples military airport from where the trio flew by helicopter to the small island of Ventotene, where they visited the grave of Altiero Spinelli, considered one of the founding fathers of the ideal of European unity. Along with Ernesto Rossi, another anti-fascist intellectual imprisoned on the island during the second world war, Spinelli co-wrote the 1941 Ventotene Manifesto calling for a federation of European states to counter the nationalism that had led Europe to war.
After placing three bouquets of blue and yellow flowers – the colours of the EU – on the marble tombstone, the leaders held a working dinner on the aircraft carrier Garibaldi, the Italian flagship of the EU’s “Sophia” migrant-rescue and anti-people-trafficking mission in the Mediterranean.
At a pre-dinner press conference that was short on concrete policy measures and long on promises, Hollande stressed the need for improved security and intelligence-sharing to bolster Europe’s defences against a wave of Islamic extremist violence.
But he warned against a retreat into nationalism after Brexit, saying the bloc could enjoy a future of “unity and cohesion” but only if EU and national leaders guarded against “the major risk – that of dislocation, egotism, a turning in on ourselves”.
Merkel recalled that the EU had been born from some of the “darkest moments” of European history but added that in the face of “enormous challenges” it must now work together, strengthening internal and external borders, boosting economic growth and providing jobs for its young people.
The talks were aimed at forging a common position as part of the three leaders’ preparations for an informal summit in Bratislava next month of the 27 states that would remain in the EU after Britain leaves.
“We won’t make decisions on behalf of other member nations but we will commit ourselves to lead,” Hollande said, adding that one of the most urgent tasks was to end economic and political uncertainty following the Brexit vote.
At their first round of talks in June, the leaders had called for “a new impulse” for the EU. They would also discuss Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis, the Syrian conflict and relations with Russia and Turkey, Renzi said.
Calls for similar in/out referendums could multiply, most imminently in the Netherlands, and member states are split on what direction the bloc should take to counter increasing Euroscepticism across member states.
Berlin has made plain it wants a “better Europe” rather than “more Europe” as favoured by its southern partners, with Merkel signalling in June her lack of enthusiasm for any “quantum leap” towards further EU integration.
On the economy, Hollande would like increases in EU investment and more fiscal harmonisation, while Renzi has argued for greater flexibility on EU deficit rules to help Italy’s ailing economy.
All three leaders face challenges from Eurosceptic or populist parties at home, with general elections due next year in France and Germany and a risky referendum on constitutional reform scheduled for later this year in Italy.
Russia Today 26-Aug-16
The massive slump in North Sea oil revenues would leave an independent Scotland with a bigger deficit than Greece, with experts saying the dip has left the nationalist dream of separation from the UK dead in the water.
The 97 percent collapse in oil income over the past 12 months has anti-independence figures gloating that the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) showpiece project is now unattainable.
Among the doomsayer’s is Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, who told the Independent on Thursday: “The nationalists’ case for independence has been swallowed up by a £14 billion black hole.”
His comments stem from new figures released by Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) which indicate that tax revenue from oil crashed from nearly £2 billion in 2015 to a mere £60 million in 2016.
This leaves a 9.5 percent gulf – just over £14.5 billion – between tax income and Scottish spending, compared to a four percent deficit for Britain as a whole.
Those Conservative and Labour politicians who survived 2014’s political rout north of the border also said independence is off the table.
The SNP has shrugged off the criticism, however, claiming that the crash in Scotland’s oil industry merely puts further emphasis on the need for other areas of its economy to be developed.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a statement: “The lower oil price has, of course, reduced offshore revenues, with a corresponding impact on our fiscal position. This underlines the fact that Scotland’s challenge is to continue to grow our onshore economy.”
However she maintained “the foundations of our economy remain strong.”
The dip in oil does not seem to have discouraged China from investing in the North Sea, however, with specialists suggesting the emerging superpower’s continued interest is a sign that something is amiss.
According to The Times, firms governed by state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) are so embedded in the UK oil industry that they stand to receive some £2 billion in tax breaks and pump out as much as 200,000 barrels of crude per day.
The Times also claims CNOOC’s former boss, Wang Yilin, told Communist Party officials in 2012 that oil rigs are “mobile national territory and a strategic weapon.”
Given the recent decline in yields, China’s continuing dominance of UK oil is now puzzling experts, who have begun to fear that control of the fields has more to do with influence than profit.
“North Sea oilfields are running down and becoming increasingly expensive for oil producers,” Jeffrey Henderson, a Bristol University development professor, told the paper.
“It may be part of a general strategy to boost the credibility and legitimacy of Chinese companies operating within Europe,” he said, adding that it could be all about “soft power.”
Beauty and tragedy, the contrasting faces of Italy, came together in deadly fashion on August 24th when a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck villages in the picturesque uplands north-east of Rome. At least 247 people died. In 2009 an earthquake devastated the city of L’Aquila, less than 30 miles (50km) away. The lethal impact of the disaster is likely to have been magnified, as it was around L’Aquila, by houses built decades, if not centuries, ago that do not meet modern anti-seismic standards. The earthquake presents Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, with a new headache as he strives to win a referendum, probably in November, on changing Italy’s constitution.
Vatican Radio 26-Aug-16
Russia has begun unexpected major military drills in several parts of the country and at sea amid major tensions with neighboring Ukraine. The exercises come amid mounting international concerns over a widening military conflict between the two neighbors.
Russia’s defense ministry says President Vladimir Putin announced snap military drills on land and in the Black and Caspian Seas.
The ministry said in a statement Thursday that the drills began at 7:00 a.m. Moscow time in Russia’s southern, western and central military districts where troops have been put on combat alert.
Officials say the exercises will last until the end of the month and will involve a variety of troops, from paratroopers to the Northern Fleet.
Kiev blames Russia
These exercises were expected to add to tensions with Kiev. It has accused Moscow of stationing more than 40,000 troops in Russian-occupied Crimea and along the borders with Ukraine.
Kiev also says Russia is supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine with weapons and troops, charges Moscow denies. In recent weeks the region has seen some of the deadliest fighting in a year.
Thursday’s drills in Russia come shortly after President Putin accused Kiev of allegedly sending its military intelligence office to carry out acts of sabotage in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
And the exercises are happening a week after Russia for the first time since it began its bombing campaign in Syria used an air base in Iran.
Daily Telegraph 23-Aug-16
The EU must sharply increase cooperation on defence and intelligence to combat Islamic terrorism and other threats, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy said, as they insisted that they were not disheartened by Britain’s historic decision to leave the bloc.
Standing on the deck of a huge Italian aircraft carrier, the Giuseppe Garibaldi, Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel and Matteo Renzi acknowledged that Europe faced the forces of “disintegration” and grave threats, including terrorist attacks, the war in Syria and the migration crisis.
It was a highly symbolic venue – the Garibaldi is coordinating the EU’s migrant rescue operation in the Mediterranean, amid fears that Islamist terrorists could enter Europe by passing themselves off as refugees.
The German chancellor, who is known to back deeper EU defence plans, called for more sharing of information between European intelligence services to thwart the kind of attacks that have hit her country, France and Belgium.
“We feel that faced with Islamist terrorism and in light of the civil war in Syria, that we need to do more for our internal and external security,” Mrs Merkel said. EU countries needed to continue to cooperate in their fight against the smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean and to protect Europe’s external borders.
President Hollande also called for greater cooperation on defence, as France comes to terms with a string of terrorist attacks in recent months. “Europe must ensure its own defence, and France is certainly playing its role,” the French leader said.
“I also insisted on defence, because we want to ensure that there is greater co-ordination there, extra means and forces.” Plans to press ahead with a so-called “EU army” will be easier now that the UK has decided to leave the bloc, a former head of the Italian military said.
General Vincenzo Camporini, former chief of the general staff, said the British thwarted a common defence policy for Europe years. “Every step forward was blocked [by the British].
The British position was crucial – everyone knew that without London, you couldn’t even begin to talk about a common European defence policy,” he told La Repubblica newspaper.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and French President Francois Hollande (L)
Mr Renzi echoed the call for deeper defences, while adding that Europe would not suffer from Britain’s departure as many had predicted after the June 23 vote to leave.
“Many people felt that after Brexit Europe would come to an end, but that is not the case,” he said, “We respect the choice made by the British citizens, but at the same time we want to be able to turn the page on a new future.”
Ahead of the first significant post-Brexit meeting for EU leaders, Mrs Merkel and President Hollande were greeted by an Italian guard of honour when they flew into Naples on Monday.
Together with the Italian prime minister they then flew by helicopter to the tiny volcanic island of Ventotene, where political prisoners interned by Mussolini during the Second World War hatched the dream of a united, federalist Europe.
The three leaders placed three bouquets of blue and yellow flowers – the colours of the European Union – on the white marble tombstone of Altiero Spinelli, one of the interned intellectuals who envisioned a Europe without nationalism and war.
The summit on board the Garibaldi was an opportunity for the three leaders to thrash out their positions on Brexit and other pressing issues ahead of a summit of the 27 remaining EU states in Bratislava next month.
Analysts said that the focus on defence and security reflected the inability of ‘core’ Europe to agree on fundamental questions over the Euro and how to revive the continent’s stagnant economy.
Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at the Eurasia group, the global risk consultancy, said that the show of unity among the big three post-Brexit European powers leaders concealed intractable differences over the direction of the continent’s economic policy
“The French and Italians both want something Mrs Merkel cannot deliver – for the French, it’s more economic integration for the Eurozone and for the Italians want more flexibility to tax and spend – but she will only pay lip service to these demands,” he added.
The $20+Billion TurkStream project of Gazprom may have a surprising side effect. If commissioned, the new pipeline can increase competition in the gas markets in Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Macedonia.
Gazprom has designed the TurkStream project to reduce Russian gas transit through Ukraine. In 2015, Gazprom shipped via Ukraine to Europe 64.2 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas, including 16.7 bcm through the Trans
Gazprom plans to build two 15.75 bcma strings, but without new pipelines running from Turkey to Greece and further into Europe, TurkStream can replace only the volumes currently delivered by TBP. One 15.75 bcma string of TurkStream would result in TBP supplying gas only to Romania and the Sofia gas pipeline in Bulgaria leaving the rest of the TBP capacity free for reverse flow from Turkey.
The reversed TBP can be easily connected with TANAP opening the Balkan markets for gas from Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Turkmenistan. According to the EU rules, Gazprom would need to compete for the access to the reversed TBP.
Figure 2. TurkStream and Southern Gas Corridor
It is very unlikely that any European company would build a new link between TurkStream and Italy, and the Trans-Adriatic pipeline (TAP) is exempt from third party access. With TurkStream commissioned, Gazprom may lose a share of the Balkan market.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has kicked off a tour of EU capitals to forge a common position on the future of the EU after the UK’s exit.
She has already held a mini-summit with France’s Francois Hollande and Italian leader Matteo Renzi earlier this week in a bid to “relaunch” the EU.
The German leader, still the most powerful politician in Europe despite being weakened by her handling of the migration crisis, is aiming to lay the groundwork ahead of an informal EU summit in mid-September in Bratislava.
The summit will be the first leaders’ meeting without the UK. The remaining 27 leaders will attempt to hammer out a common position for the EU’s future after Brexit.
Merkel, who will meet 15 leaders this week, is trying to bridge the gaps between the various groups among the EU member states.
Some southern countries are keen to see more integration, especially in the economy, something that Merkel is cautious about after the euro crisis. However, eastern members have called for more powers to be repatriated to member states and vowed to come up with their own proposals for the crucial September summit.
On Wednesday (24 August), Merkel kicks off the second leg of her tour with a visit to Estonia, where is she is meeting prime minister Taavi Roivas and see Nato’s cybersecurity centre in Tallinn.
On Thursday, she will head to Prague to meet with Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka. Later on she will also meet with the country’s staunchly eurosceptic president, Milos Zeman.
Zeman has also been a fierce critic of Merkel’s welcoming policy towards refugees, and has called for a total ban of migrants entering the Czech Republic.
The migration crisis is another topic that is bound to come up during Merkel’s discussions, as she attempts to salvage the previously agreed EU policies on taking in and distributing refugees across Europe in an attempt to calm critics and concerned voters ahead of next year’s general election in Germany.
Germany has taken in over a million asylum seekers since last summer, and has suffered two terrorist attacks this summer, reinforcing a shift in mood among Germans who initially welcomed migrants from war-torn, destitute areas.
Merkel is heading for some tough talks on Friday in Warsaw, whose nationalist government, led by the Law and Justice party has been increasingly critical of Berlin’s leadership and its migration policy.
In Poland, Merkel will hold talks with the prime ministers of the Visegrad countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia. The bloc has been uniformly against taking in asylum seekers from Muslim countries and has been calling for a rollback of EU powers.
Some eastern countries still hold a grudge against the European Commission, which pushed through the German-inspired policy of relocating refugees across the continent in the name of solidarity, despite their opposition.
Merkel will also discuss with her eastern partners the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the sanctions against Russia, the EU’s relations with Belarus and the situation in Turkey after the failed coup attempt in July.
Merkel will hold one-on-one talks with Poland’s prime minister Beata Szydlo, whose country has been mired in controversy as the European Commission said some of its policies are aimed at dismantling the rule of law.
Later on Friday, back in Berlin, Merkel will meet with Nordic leaders, and has a working dinner with the prime ministers of Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
While her talks might be more relaxed with her Nordic counterparts, Finland’s president warned on Tuesday that the EU’s decision-making and implementation was weak. Sauli Niinisto called for a return to the EU’s basic values.
On Saturday, Merkel will hold talks with the leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Slovenia.
While there is little chance that a consensus will emerge quickly, Merkel wants to avoid a spat between the member states, and instead aims to focus on EU policies that can deliver tangible results to voters quickly.
By speaking to 15 different leaders just this week ahead of the Bratislava summit, Merkel also wants to dissipate any impression that Berlin tries to impose its will on the rest of the EU.
The Spectator 26-Aug-16
Two years after the independence referendum, the Better Together case looks stronger than ever
This time two years ago, the United Kingdom stood on the brink of dissolution. The referendum on Scottish independence hung in the balance and momentum was with the nationalists. The optimism and energy of Alex Salmond’s campaign stood in admirable contrast to the shrill hysteria of Project Fear, the name given to a unionist campaign that churned out ever-less-credible warnings about what would happen after separation. The union was saved, but 45 per cent of Scots had voted to leave it. So the referendum had not closed the question, but left it wide open.
At the time, the North Sea oil sector was still in fairly good health. In the SNP’s economic manifesto for independence, it gave estimates of up to £7.9 billion a year for oil revenues. Then the oil price crashed — and oil revenues are now 99 per cent lower, at £60 million. This is no freak: America has mastered fracking and doesn’t need to import so much oil now, pushing the price of a barrel down from $110 to $45. This hasn’t hurt the UK economy because the stimulus from cheaper fuel generally balances out lower North Sea receipts. A country of 65 million can absorb such shocks. A separate Scotland simply could not.
Had the SNP achieved its stated ambition of ‘independence day’ in the spring of 2016, what would it be doing now? We don’t have to imagine. This week, the Scottish government published figures for its national finances. They show that the Scottish government spends £127 for every £100 it raises in tax — a ratio unequalled anywhere else in the developed world. It can do this because so much extra money is sent up from England. For every £100 spent per English head, £120 is spent on a Scottish one.
Greece, Italy, Albania — no country, no matter how economically distressed, has such a mismatch between state spending and tax collected. Scotland’s deficit — at 10.1 per cent of GDP — is now twice as big as the next-worst country (Japan). No independent country could afford to run a deficit of Scottish magnitude: to borrow on world markets, you need a semblance of fiscal respectability. Even to join the European Union, Scotland’s deficit would need to be below 3 per cent. So an independent Scotland would right now be facing a choice: state spending down by 15 per cent, taxes up by 19 per cent, or a combination of the two.
The cuts are certainly doable. The Scottish government machine is vast, and at times the whole enterprise looks like an attempt to recreate East Germany. Nicola Sturgeon could certainly propose a rapid slimming-down of government, and say that this is a price worth paying for secession. But as her own government figures now make clear, she could not pretend that an independent Scotland could sustain current levels of largesse. She can forget about free university tuition and free personal care for the elderly.
The SNP’s case for separation has always rested on three pillars: that the black gold in the North Sea would transform the economy, that Scotland’s priorities are irreconcilably different from those of England, and that Scottish government always means better government. Each of these three pillars has now collapsed. The North Sea dream has ended: jobs and expertise have already shifted to the Caspian Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. As to the second pillar, the British Social Attitudes survey, the largest of its kind, shows Scots growing ever closer to the English in their outlook to politics, culture and society.
And better government? The SNP has now had nine years to prove its theory that decisions taken by officials in Edinburgh are better when it comes to schools, hospitals, transport and the environment. But even Nicola Sturgeon cannot claim that the NHS is better in Scotland than in England. Or that Scotland’s state education system is more progressive than England’s. On the contrary, a poor Scottish teenager is now half as likely to get into university as a poor English one. The merging of regional police services into Police Scotland has been a disaster.
Now and again it is argued that the EU referendum has made Scotland more likely to vote for independence. While it’s true that only two in five Scots supported Brexit, this has hardly transformed the desire for independence. The basic economic reality is stark, and undeniable: an independent Scotland would be a Scotland embarking on the most ambitious austerity programme attempted by any western country in peacetime. There may well be a case for this. But as of this week, the SNP can no longer pretend that separation and sado-austerity would not come hand in hand.
And the case for the Union? North Sea oil revenue has all but vanished — but there has been no national hammerblow as a result. Instead, more Scots are in work than ever before. Scottish pensioner poverty is lower than ever before. Scottish household wealth is higher than ever before.
By being plugged into the larger economic network of the United Kingdom, Scots have not just been shielded from the oil slump, but have been able to achieve more than ever. The pooling of resources works. Scotland and England are now, more than ever,better together.
The EU has urged Turkey to clarify if it still wants to join the bloc, as relations between Ankara and Western allies deteriorate.
The EU’s enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, spoke out in Austrian newspaper Die Presse on Wednesday (24 August), saying EU concern was “justified” that Turkey had violated rule of law in its purge after the failed putsch in July.
“If you want to join [the EU] you have to fulfil the criteria. The rules are not negotiable,” he said.
“Turkey should soon make clear, whether it can and wants to accept those conditions. This open question puts a strain on relations”.
Hahn said he was in favour of continuing accession talks, but warned that if Turkey reinstated the death penalty then it would have “crossed the rubicon” and the EU “would need to respond”.
He also criticised Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan for claiming the EU had failed to pay the €3 billion in aid that it had promised under a migration deal and for threatening to let refugees resume mass-scale transit to Europe.
He said the EU had paid €200 million to aid agencies in Turkey and earmarked over €2 billion for future payments, but that the money was not a gift to Ankara.
“Maybe there was a presumption on the Turkish side that we just transfer money and don’t ask questions”, he said.
“Neighbours and partners should not threaten you”, the Austrian politician added.
Relations between Turkey and Austria hit a low after Vienna said EU talks should be stopped and after Austrian authorities allowed Kurds to hold a rally in support of the separatist PKK group.
Relations with Germany and the US have also frayed.
Problems with Germany began in June, before the coup, when the Bundestag recognised the Ottoman killing of Armenians in 1915 as genocide.
US ties have suffered amid Turkish accusations that Washington is sheltering Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic teacher who lives in the US and whom Erdogan has accused of organising the putsch.
German newspaper Der Spiegel reported on Thursday that Germany is thinking of moving six warplanes from Turkey’s Incirlik base to Cyprus or Jordan.
The potential move, sources said, comes because Turkey refused to let German MPs visit the base in protest at the Armenia vote.
“The German government must immediately find other bases,” Rainer Arnold, a spokesman for the SPD party in Germany’s ruling coalition, said.
The strain in US ties was on show on Wednesday when US vice-president Joe Biden visited Ankara.
Erdogan sent a lowly deputy mayor to meet him at the airport and later said the US must arrest Gulen to stop him from giving press interviews.
Biden called the coup plotters “terrorists” and urged Kurdish forces in Syria to move away from Turkey’s borders, but he said the US must follow due process on Gulen.
“The constitution and our laws require for someone to be extradited that a court of the United States has to conclude there’s probable cause to extradite,” he said.
“Thus far … there has been no evidence presented about the coup.”
The rift between Western powers and their Nato ally in the Middle East has prompted speculation that Turkey might forge a new alliance with Russia.
Erodgan met Russian leader Vladimir Putin earlier this month, while Russian propaganda has switched to highlighting irritants in EU-Turkey and US-Turkey relations.
Bulgaria attacks EU
The shifting ground in the region has also prompted some EU states to question allegiances.
Bulgarian prime minister Boiko Borisov said on Thursday that he needed his own deal with Turkey because the EU had mishandled the migration crisis.
“I don’t see a perspective on a solution to the migrant crisis in Europe. All I see is every country trying to save itself in panic and looking for a clause in their EU membership contract that would allow it to act separately,” he told press.
“Our only option is to look for a partnership with Turkey”.
Bulgaria last year cancelled a gas project with Russia, the South Stream pipeline, to comply with EU energy laws.
But Borisov has also begun cultivating ties with Moscow and complained that EU membership has brought his country few benefits.
“By following thousands and thousands of restrictions, as administered by the EU, Bulgaria is spending thousands on a daily basis, on monitoring the borders, food and shelter, statute interviews for each and every registered migrant,” he said.
International Busines 25-Aug-16
Italy is one of the most seismically active countries in Europe – and has a long history of earthquakes.
Dozens of people have been killed after a 6.2 magnitude earthquake stuck a mountainous region of central Italy, devastating villages and leaving many trapped under rubble. Officials have so far confirmed more than 240 deaths, the majority in the villages of Pescara del Tronto, Amatrice and Accumoli.
The earthquake, estimated to have struck shortly after 3.30am at a shallow depth of 10km below the epicentre in Umbria, was felt across a vast region of the country, including the capital Rome.
A series of aftershocks have continued to affect the area, including a second earthquake of magnitude 5.5.
Italy is one of the most seismically active countries in Europe. It has a long history of earthquakes, essentially due to the collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates which pushed up the Apennine mountain range, which runs along the backbone of Italy. One of the most recent earthquakes, and one of the deadliest, struck the Abruzzo region in 2009, killing around 300 people.
“Europe has a long history of damaging earthquakes,” says Dr Carmine Galasso, a lecturer in earthquake engineering at UCL. “While earthquakes are widespread throughout Europe, the most destructive events have historically occurred in the Mediterranean countries, particularly Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Turkey.
“Over the last 2,000 years, more than 400 destructive earthquakes have been documented in Italy.
“Significant historical events include the 1908 magnitude 7.1 Messina earthquake, which is considered to be one of the most powerful natural disasters to have taken place in Europe, the 1976 magnitude 6.4 Friuli earthquake, the 1980 magnitude 6.9 Irpinia earthquake, and the 2009 magnitude 6.3 L’Aquila earthquake.”
Dr Jennifer Weston, a seismologist at the International Seismological Centre, says Italy is prone to earthquakes for two reasons – its location and its landscape.
“Italy is on two massive tectonic plates – Eurasia and Africa – which are colliding, and there is also subduction of a smaller microplate to the east of Italy. So essentially the crust in this region is being pulled in all different directions and it is this movement that is stored up as energy in the crust over time, and is then released in earthquakes,” Weston says.
“There just isn’t this kind of tectonic set up in other countries. The UK for example sits in the middle of a tectonic plate, which is stable and results in far fewer earthquakes.”
Photos of historic Italian towns flattened by powerful earthquake
Italy’s famed landscape also plays a part in the destruction caused by an earthquake. “Another reason why some of the earthquakes in this particular region of Italy are so damaging is because the region itself is mountainous,” Weston says. “Shaking in areas with steep slopes can lead to landslides which can be just as damaging as the direct shaking of buildings. This was the case in the L’Aquila earthquake in 2009, and more recently in the 2015 Nepal earthquake.”
But why are some of Italy’s earthquakes so catastrophic in villages? As many seismologists will point out, it is not the tremors that kill people, it is the buildings.
“Why the earthquakes cause so many casualties is linked to the vulnerability of the building stock,” Dr Tiziana Rossetto, a professor of earthquake engineering at UCL who witnessed the damage caused by the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake first hand. “Although Italian seismic building codes are state of art, they are applied to new buildings and the majority of the building stock precedes the introduction of these seismic codes.
“In particular, the historical centres of many small towns, such as in the affected areas, are composed of fairly weak masonry construction that is very vulnerable to earthquakes, in particular if no strengthening interventions have been carried out in the past. This means that moderate earthquakes can result in the collapse of buildings, and therefore, casualties.”
While there is currently no way of predicting an earthquake, the best way to minimise the impact is to ensure all buildings in tremor-prone areas are correctly reinforced.
Int. Chr. Emb. Jerusalem 25-Aug-16
Netanyahu Speaks with Putin About Palestinian Issue
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week about, among other things, the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians. The Kremlin has expressed interest recently in hosting Israeli and Palestinian officials for talks in Moscow. In related news, the IDF released a report Wednesday clearing troops of accusations of wrongdoing in four cases from the 2014 Gaza war. The reports were part of a massive investigation into allegations of war crimes by IDF troops which resulted in the deaths of Palestinian civilians during the conflict. Investigations, including several that are still ongoing, have been conducted by the IDF, the UN Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court and others. 360 incidents in total are being investigated and 31 criminal investigations have been launched as a result, while 13 others have been closed.
Saudi-US Trade Group 26-Aug-16
2016 has been a good year for U.S. farmers and food producers looking to expand into the Saudi market as the Kingdom has relaxed previously established restrictions on both poultry and beef imports from the United States.
In July, Saudi Arabia lifted a lengthy four-year ban on US beef imports that followed a scare over Mad Cow disease in 2012. And this week, the Saudi Food and Drug Authority lifted a ban on American raised poultry after Saudi authorities said they were satisfied that the U.S. had controlled Avian Influenza.
The Head of the Saudi FDA in Washington, D.C.
The Head of the Saudi FDA Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Meshaal, with Dr. Robert M. Califf, MD, the FDA’s commissioner of food and drugs, in Washington, D.C.
The decisions taken by Saudi Arabia to ban U.S. meat imports caused losses in the millions for American exporters and jump started a lobbying effort by interest groups in the U.S.
In 2012, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture delivered a letter outlining the reasons why the decision to close the Saudi market to U.S. beef was “inappropriate and unacceptable,” according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEA), a public affairs organization funded by meat exporting interests and the USDA.
“Of particular concern is the manner in which Saudi officials waited two weeks to make an announcement, then arbitrarily selected an effective shipping date of April 19 (2012) for the closure,” the USMEA said, citing the loss of millions of dollars in meat exports before that year’s Ramadan holiday. “Losing a market this size is not going to cripple the U.S. beef industry as a whole, but it could be absolutely devastating for small and medium-sized companies that specialize in serving Saudi Arabia.”
Prior to the ban the US exported $31m of beef and beef products to Saudi Arabia, according to the BBC. Under the new agreement, US exporters will initially be able to sell beef from cattle under 30-months of age.
Earlier this month a delegation from the Saudi Food and Drug Authority and officials from SAGIA visited Washington. Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, Prince Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki, met with the Chief Executive Officer of the Saudi FDA Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Meshaal.
U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Joseph Westphal applauded the decision to reverse the export ban in July 2016, saying “our teams met face to face for extensive discussions with the goal of expanding bilateral trade to benefit both of our nations’ private sectors while meeting our common high standards for consumer safety…I commend the Saudi Food and Drug Authority and the team from the United States Embassy in Riyadh, the Office of the US Trade Representative, and the US Department of Agriculture for finding a solution that meets the market’s needs and sets an example for continued trade cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United States.”
Earlier this week, Russia’s Vladimir Putin reportedly told Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah Sisi that he would be willing to host direct talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow.
Putin did speak to Netanyahu by phone Tuesday, and according to press reports, they did discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Having pushed Russia into the middle of Syria’s civil war with great effect last September, is Vladimir Putin now making a serious bid to become a Middle East peacemaker too? If he’s serious — and this is far from certain — Washington should let him try.
Given the moribund state of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the long odds of success, Putin would almost certainly fail, tarnishing his vaunted image and likely angering Israelis and Palestinians in the process.
Here are some key questions:
Is Putin serious?
Clearly Putin is only testing the waters at this stage. Had he wanted to own his proposal for talks, Putin might have announced the offer publicly himself. By using al-Sisi — someone he knows is close to the Israelis and also has leverage over the Palestinians –he assured himself a favorable hearing and a way out should the Israelis and Palestinians say no. Sisi has for months offered to host talks between the sides in Cairo — an idea whose time has clearly not yet come.
If Putin wanted to take his idea a step further without risking failure, he could invite both Netanyahu and Abbas to Moscow again for separate consultations in Moscow to see whether there actually was a basis for getting them together.
What’s in this for Putin?
Putin loves the big stage, particularly if the play includes an angle to counter Washington and make the Americans look bad. Traditionally, the peace process — or what remains of it — has been a US preserve. And Putin knows how much effort John Kerry has invested in this to little avail.
The pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian peace is high-stakes, prestigious diplomacy and has been conducted most often over the years with the Russians excluded. But should Russia find a way to nibble around the edges or insert itself in the middle of the game, it would only reinforce the impression that Moscow is a key player and has exploited successfully the vacuum the Obama Administration has created through what its critics charge is an abdication of leadership. Besides whatever comes of the offer to host talks, Putin loves jerking Washington’s diplomatic chain.
Would Abbas and Netanyahu agree?
Clearly neither Abbas nor Netanyahu is happy with Washington’s mediation efforts. Netanyahu fears the administration will in its final months try to do something on the peace process he can’t accept, such as push for a UN Security Council Resolution or pressure him in some way. And Abbas is frustrated because he believes the Americans haven’t squeezed Netanyahu hard enough.
It’s certainly possible that Netanyahu is already looking beyond President Obama to the next President and would see the Russian offer as a way to hedge his bets and get through the next several months — just as he encouraged Sisi to host direct talks in Cairo. Anybody but Obama, Netanyahu might muse to himself.
Still, Netanyahu would have to think very hard — however important Russia is in the context of Israel’s stake in Syria and Lebanon — about the consequences of a Russian centered peace process. Could he trust Russia, whose views traditionally on the issues in the negotiations (borders, Jerusalem and refugees) have been much closer to the Palestinian side than to Israel.
Trump encourages Putin, America's foe
Trump encourages Putin, America’s foe (Opinion)
And what would the impact be in the US and Israel, if Netanyahu agreed to a Russian-led process, particularly with Russia growing closer to Iran and when Netanyahu seems so close to signing a 10-year package of security assistance worth billions with the US.
As for Abbas, he may believe that the Russians would indeed take his side on some key issues. But having refused to agree to direct negotiations with the Israelis these many months, Abbas would not allow himself to cede that point for free. He would demand that Moscow provide assurances that Israel would make concessions on key issues. And why would Putin have any more success in that area than the Obama Administration after eight years?
Most likely, Putin’s offer is pot stirring, an effort to create drama and news by demonstrating that Russia might be a peace mediator too. And it’s certainly possible that some symbolic meeting — devoid of substance — could take place in Moscow.
But Putin’s idea has failure written all over it. And if the Russian leader persists, Washington should stand back and let him try.
If there ever was a loser issue designed to suck huge amounts of thankless effort out of any would-be mediator without achieving results, it’s the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Not only is the issue not ready for prime time, it’s bound to make those who take it on look weak and feckless and earn the anger and animosity of the Israelis and Palestinians to boot.
Putin knows all of this, of course, which is why more than likely he’ll steer clear of any serious effort. But who knows. After Ukraine and Syria, maybe he feels like he’s on a roll. Having spent 20-plus years trying to push this particular big rock up the hill, I wish him luck.
One of the founding fathers of Europe’s long held plan for a unified army has said the UK exit from the European Union is the perfect time to realize the ambition, following years of British “sabotage” of the concept.
Gen. Vincenzo Camporini, a former head of the Italian general staff, told Defense News that the EU’s plans for a series of multinational battle groups run by an EU military headquarters could now flourish after the UK voted to leave the EU in June.
“The UK’s opposition to setting up the EU military HQ put a stop to it,” Camporini said.
Camporini was one of four European military officials who formed a working group in 1999 to map out a European army, a plan known as the Helsinki Headline Goal. He is now vice president and a security and defense analyst with the IAI think tank in Rome.
Some battle groups have been formed, including an Italian-Slovenian-Hungarian group, but others exist only on paper.
“Those that exist have never been tested,” Camporini . “When will we follow the NATO example and have annual exercises?”
Another way Europe has sought to integrate armed forces was by setting up the European Defense Agency, a pan-European office designed to encourage joint procurement.
Camporini said the agency remained weak and ineffective, thanks in part to the UK undermining it.
“The UK always opposed funding increases, and three quarters of the agency’s budget is absorbed by salaries, leaving it as a body whose scope is survival,” he said. “It was clear that after its early enthusiasm, UK sentiment for EU defense cooled.”
Camporini said the military cooperation deal struck by the UK with France in 2010 was emblematic of the UK approach to European defense.
“The treaty clearly stated it was not to be extended to other countries. When a few months later as Chief of Staff I met in a ‘quad’ format my colleagues from France, Germany and UK, [then-Chief of the Defence Staff for the UK] Gen. [David] Richards and [then-Chief of the Defense Staff for France] Adm. [Edouard] Guillaud were really embarrassed to have to admit to this,” Camporini said.
With the UK on its way out of the heading out of Europe, British opposition would no longer be a factor, but there would be other benefits, said Camporini. “The British attitude was an excuse for other — some people hid behind the UK. Now the excuse is no longer there; who is ready to go forward? I believe the Germans are willing, although I have doubts about France because of its nuclear deterrent. Will that be shared? It is a very delicate political issue.”
If Europe does now create a military capability, it will lack a British contribution, but Camporini said declining UK capabilities meant that was no longer a problem.
“If anyone had proposed building a European capability in 1999 without the UK, I would have said they were crazy, but during the last few years, UK governments have been greedy with the peace dividend and they gave up their sea projection capability, which they will not get back before their new carriers arrive,” he said.
The prospects for European collaboration appear brighter after the leaders of France, Germany and Italy all stressed military cooperation when they met in Italy for a post-Brexit vote summit.
Analysts have suggested defense cooperation is a handy cause to rally round since European leaders agree on little else, but a series of factors, from protecting frontiers to Russian aggression, have put a common defense back on the agenda, particularly among Eastern European states.
But before Europe can push on, Camporini said it would need to work on its political and military coordination. “We need to test decision-making procedures — there is no point having battle groups ready if you need months to get a political sign off.”
He cited the Eurofor military headquarters set up by Italy, France, Portugal and Spain as an example: “When the time came to deploy it to Kosovo, just after Kosovo declared independence, Spain vetoed it. We had a beautiful instrument which was eventually disbanded.”
BESA Center 26-Aug-16
India and the GCC: The Geostrategic Shift 18 min video – [I haven’t watched it but looks int, young lions working in region. I of a series of talks at this conference. Don.]
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