Tag Archives: European Union

EU extends sanctions against Venezuela for 1 year

The European Council on Monday extended restrictive measures against Venezuela for one year.

“In light of the ongoing political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela with persistent actions undermining democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights, the Council today extended the restrictive measures against Venezuela for one year, until 14 November 2020,” the Council said in a statement.

It added the measures include an embargo on arms and on equipment for internal repression as well as a travel ban and an asset freeze on 25 listed individuals in official positions.

“These measures are intended to help encourage democratic shared solutions in order to bring political stability to the country and allow it to address the pressing needs of the population,” it added.

Since the beginning of the year, Venezuela has been embroiled in political unrest as President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido engaged in a power battle, while the country’s economy has been in precipitous decline following a global downturn in the price of crude oil — the country’s main export.

Nearly 5,000 people leave Venezuela every day due to instability and uncertainty amid the economic and political crisis, and three million Venezuelans have left since 2015, according to the UN Refugee Agency.


Use of force against Iraqi protestors ‘deplorable’: EU

The EU on Thursday voiced concern over ongoing protests in Iraq, saying use of force against protestors is “deplorable”.

“Despite repeated calls for restraint, there has been further loss of lives, a great number of injured and destruction of public and private property.

“The excessive use of force against protestors is deplorable,” EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

Mogherini said over the past month, the people of Iraq have exercised their fundamental rights, which needs to be respected in line with the Iraqi constitution.

“The reported attacks by armed entities against demonstrators undermine the right to peaceful assembly and the expression of legitimate demands.

“The European Union expects perpetrators of all violations to be held accountable,” she added.

The bloc also reiterated willingness to support Iraq in its work to address the citizens’ demands.

At least 260 people have been killed and thousands injured in a second wave of protests in Iraq since last week against deep-seated corruption, unemployment and lack of basic services.

More than 230 people have been killed in a first wave of anti-government protests in October.

Popular anger has been simmering in Iraq in recent years due to rising unemployment and rampant corruption. Many people in the country have limited access to basic services such as electricity and clean water.

According to World Bank figures, Iraq’s youth unemployment is around 25%. It also ranks the 12th most-corrupt country in the world according to several transparency organizations.


Nigel Farage Warned of Becoming ‘Man Who Threw Away Brexit’ by Creating ‘Hung Parliament’

Nigel Farage, leader of Britain’s Brexit Party, has announced he would not take part in the 12 December general election, but warned that his party would fight the Tories in key seats ahead of the snap poll.

Nigel Farage risks becoming the “man who threw away Brexit”, Steve Baker, chairman of the Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG) has warned, as the Brexit Party leader prepares to unveil his 600 election candidates, reports The Telegraph.

The senor Tory Brexiteer accused Farage of “setting out” to create a “weak and indecisive” hung Parliament if he fields 600 election candidates during December’s parliamentary vote.

The former Brexit minister, who until now remained closely aligned with Farage on Brexit, also lambasted his decision not to stand as an MP, saying it showed he was “not serious about governing the country”.

He also said his fellow Brexiteer was “wrong” to characterise Boris Johnson’s deal as “not Brexit”, adding it was “a path to a great future”.

Baker warned “we will not succeed if Nigel Farage creates a hung parliament by dogmatically pursuing purity”.

Echoing these warnings, Nigel Farage has said the British election is likely to result in a hung parliament and the Brexit Party’s lawmakers could be “kingmakers”.

“It is likely, it is likely that we are going to have a hung parliament next time around so actually if the Brexit Party get a reasonable amount of people in there they could exert great influence,” Farage told ITV.

“Mrs. May was kept in power by 10 DUP MPs.”

Farage said he would hurt the opposition Labour Party “in the most extraordinary way”.

Brexit Party Geared to Fight the Tories

On 3 November, Nigel Farage revealed he would not stand as an MP in the snap election.

I have thought very hard about this: How do I serve the cause of Brexit best? Do I find a seat and try to get myself into parliament or do I serve the cause better traversing the length and breadth of the United Kingdom supporting 600 candidates, and I’ve decided the latter course is the right one,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday.

Farage, who claimed to have “agonised” over the decision, said he intended to focus on supporting his party’s candidates up and down the country.

Previously, the Brexit Party said it considers Johnson’s deal to be a betrayal of the 2016 referendum, with Farage warning Prime Minister Boris Johnson that his candidates would use the election campaign to drive home the realisation that his Brexit deal is a “sell out.”

Farage’s announcement was seen as a potential setback for Johnson, as it risks splitting the vote of Brexit supporters in an election that will pit those who want to leave the European Union against those who want to stay.

There are reportedly concerns that if Nigel Farage fiercely contests hundreds of seats across the country on 12 December it could undermine Johnson’s chances of winning a working majority.

Boris Johnson has reiterated there would be no election alliance with the Brexit Party, saying the only way of securing a Brexit was to back the Tories.

Meanwhile, voting for Farage’s party, the Tories said, could stop Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and bring Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10 through “the back door”.

Pollsters: Snap Election a “Tough Call”

The UK Parliament is set to dissolve on 5 November; on 29 October MPs voted 438 to 20 to support Johnson’s proposal to hold an early general election, with the EU granting the UK another Brexit delay until 31 January on the same day.

PM Johnson will seek to win a majority in parliament to break the deadlock over his proposed terms for taking the country out of the EU.

Ahead of the snap vote, pundits and pollsters have been describing this general election as the hardest to call in years.

Three separate surveys were published by various polling companies, each with the Tories out in front, but by different margins.

At the upper end of the scale was one by Opinium, which has the Conservatives with a 16 point lead.


Johnson plans N Ireland ‘special relationship’ with EU for Brexit

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new Brexit plan will leave Northern Ireland in a ‘special relationship’ with the European Union until 2025, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Tuesday, insisting he will take the UK out of the EU, whatever happens, at the end of the month.

The Johnson plan would mean Northern Ireland would remain in large parts of the EU single market for at least five years, but that it would leave the customs union along with the rest of the UK, according to the report.

Johnson is due to unveil his final Brexit offer on Wednesday, insisting in his closing speech to the annual conference of his ruling Conservative Party that his plan is a “reasonable compromise” and offers the last chance to avoid a chaotic no-deal exit.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party (DUP) is largely “content” with the proposals, the Guardian newspaper reported separately, adding that the plan was supported by the party’s leader Arlene Foster.

However, Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the proposals would not provide the basis for a deal with the EU and were “concerning.”

Speaking to Ireland’s Virgin Media One television station Coveney said: “We haven’t seen anything. … But if the reports we are reading this evening are true, it doesn’t seem like the basis for agreement, that’s for sure.”

Johnson has said Britain will leave the EU on this year’s October 31 deadline, even if he has not failed to secure a new deal.

“My friends, I am afraid that after three-and-a-half years people are beginning to feel that they are being taken for fools,” Johnson will tell the party conference, according to extracts released by his office. “They are beginning to suspect that there are forces in this country that simply don’t want Brexit delivered at all.

“Let’s get Brexit done on October 31 so in 2020 our country can move on.”

Fears of ‘no-deal’ impact

Brexit, the country’s biggest trade and foreign policy shift in more than 40 years, remains uncertain amid staunch opposition in parliament to a ‘no deal’ Brexit that legislators fear will cause the country untold damage.

New legislation requires the prime minister to request a Brexit delay if he fails to secure an acceptable deal at the EU summit on Oct. 17.

The EU has repeatedly asked Britain to come up with “legal and operational” proposals for the changes Johnson wants to the deal his predecessor, Theresa May, negotiated with the bloc last year.

That deal was also voted down by parliament, including by hardliners in his own party who want a ‘clean break’ with Europe. 

Johnson, who leads a minority government, has insisted he would “in no circumstances” seek to delay Brexit at the summit. 

The plan centres on the so-called backstop in May’s deal, which aimed to keep open the land border between Northern Ireland, which is governed by Britain, and Ireland, which is part of the EU.

May’s proposal would have kept Britain in an effective customs union with the EU, which critics argued would force Britain to abide by the bloc’s rules indefinitely.

Under the plans reported in the Telegraph, Johnson would, in effect, create two potentially new borders — regulatory checks in the Irish Sea, and customs checks on the island of Ireland.


EU considering extra aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey

Germany is in talks with other EU member states to provide additional support to Turkey for Syrian refugees, deputy interior minister told parliament.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question released on Tuesday, Stephan Mayer reaffirmed Germany’s commitment to the 2016 EU-Turkey refugee deal and signaled for further support to both Turkey and Greece to improve the implementation of the agreement.

“In spite of the considerable efforts made by the Turkish side, the number of refugees arriving at Greek Islands is increasing,” he said, commenting on the recent figures on the crossings in the Aegean Sea.

“Therefore the Federal Government is examining possible further assistance to Turkey and coordinating this with the European partners,” he added.

His remarks came ahead of German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer’s planned visit to Turkey and Greece on Thursday and Friday.

In August, nearly 8,100 refugees and migrants arrived at Greek islands, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

At the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, more than 856,000 people — mostly Syrian and Iraqi refugees — crossed the Aegean Sea.

In 2016, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has championed the EU-Turkey refugee agreement with the hope of stopping the refugee influx, after nearly a million refugees had arrived in Germany.

The agreement has been successful in significantly reducing the number of crossings in the Aegean Sea, and preventing the loss of many lives. But the EU’s bureaucratic hurdles and delays to mobilize promised funds led to sharp criticism by Turkish officials.

The EU had pledged €6 billion ($6.6 billion) aid to improve living conditions of Syrian refugees in Turkey. But only €2.22 billion were disbursed until June 2019.

The EU member states also pledged that for every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU as part of a resettlement plan.

But the pace of returns to Turkey from the Greek islands under the agreement has been slow largely due to lengthy legal processes and administrative problems in Greece.

The EU member states only accepted nearly 20,000 Syrian refugees from Turkey since 2016.

Turkey currently hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world. Ankara has so far spent $40 billion for the refugees, according to official figures.


With Five Weeks To Go, Here’s How EU Rates Brexit Deal Chances

It’s endgame time (again) on Brexit. Five weeks before the U.K.’s scheduled departure, it seems to be anyone’s guess whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson will get a revised divorce deal with the European Union, ask for another postponement or defy Parliament and leave without an agreement.

With Britain’s Conservatives holding a party conference this week, there’s bound to be a lot of noise. Here’s a reality check on how the EU sees events unfolding, based on multiple conversations with officials directly involved in the process. All of them spoke on condition they not be identified because the discussions aren’t public.

The Talks

On balance, the EU view is that Johnson wants a deal. While his aggressive tone when he took office in July led some to suspect the opposite, his discussions with other leaders have been serious enough to convince the EU he doesn’t really favor a disorderly departure.
U.K. and EU teams have made little progress in limited talks in Brussels and one European official said it would be a joke to describe them as “negotiations.” The British government has published four so-called non-papers — essentially discussion documents — on arrangements for the Irish border. The EU says they aren’t realistic, don’t set out concrete solutions and look like they’re designed to stall for time.
The EU always accepted that the U.K. government would submit more serious proposals only after the Tories’ annual conference, which ends Wednesday. If that happens quickly, there would be enough time to reach a deal before an EU summit in Brussels on Oct. 17-18.\

The Compromises

  • The EU desperately wants a deal. With Brexit dragging on and the threat of economic pain caused by a no-deal crash-out, the bloc is in the mood to compromise. While it won’t do anything to risk the principles of the single market, it would make more concessions on the contentious Irish border backstop if Johnson were likely to get approval for a deal in the House of Commons. The catch? The EU doubts he can pull it off.
  • Giving the Northern Ireland assembly a say on the backstop is something the EU would consider to help increase democratic legitimacy. The U.K. would need to propose solutions. So far, it hasn’t.
  • Any revised deal would require a completely rewritten political declaration on future ties to reflect the different priorities of Johnson’s government compared to Theresa May’s. The EU is alarmed that Johnson wants to ditch May’s commitments on the level playing field — common standards in areas such as social protection, taxation and state aid subsidies. These would underpin any future trade deal. They would become even more significant if the backstop reverts to covering only Northern Ireland rather than the whole U.K., something the EU would accept. France in particular is keen to uphold the level playing field.
  • The EU’s mood for compromise faded over the past week with increasing concern over the febrile atmosphere in the U.K., Johnson’s heightened rhetoric and the court verdict declaring his suspension of Parliament unlawful. Meetings between Johnson and other world leaders at the UN General Assembly didn’t produce much.
  • That same sense of shock has some governments increasingly toying with the idea of accepting some U.K. demands just to end the agony. Yet there’s no serious pressure on the Irish government, which would have to accept concessions on the border backstop.

The Summit(s)

  • Leaders of the other 27 EU countries always insist they won’t negotiate at a summit, meaning a deal would have to be done in the next 2 1/2 weeks or less. Some officials in the EU are bracing for a car-crash summit with Johnson walking out if he doesn’t get his way.
  • Given the small window, the EU expects another summit at some point during the two weeks between the scheduled one and Oct 31. This would also almost certainly be the case if leaders needed to agree another extension.

The Extension

  • EU officials don’t seriously expect government leaders to block a further Brexit delay if the U.K. asks for it. They might even try to get ahead of Johnson and proactively offer an extension.
  • There’s no guarantee the U.K. would get the three months that Parliament’s legislation tells the prime minister to request. The extension could be shorter — or longer, especially if a U.K. election is in the cards.
  • With Johnson determined not to request an extension but Parliament forcing him to, EU officials have discussed whom they should listen to. It seems certain that the bloc will only recognize an extension request from the prime minister himself or, like the last two times, the U.K. ambassador to the EU in Brussels.

The Technicalities

  • The EU is pretty sure the only way out of the logjam on the Irish border issue is make the backstop apply to Northern Ireland only, rather than the whole U.K. The backstop — which Johnson says he wants scrapped — could be repackaged, renamed or given a new look with an all-Ireland agri-food zone and a chapter on the readiness to use alternative arrangements, such as trusted-trader programs and technology.
  • The U.K. hasn’t indicated backing and hasn’t offered much beyond the willingness to accept an all-Ireland agri-food zone. Even this, the so-called sanitary and phytosanitary zone, or SPS, wouldn’t negate the need for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU’s customs union. That brings the whole issue back to a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
  • The EU would accept an all-Ireland SPS zone but this would only solve about 30% of the border activities. Even then, the EU is confused about what the U.K. is proposing. Would it be a new Ireland-only zone or would Northern Ireland simply be part of the EU’s rules? Would Northern Ireland accept future changes in EU rules and would the U.K. accept European Court of Justice jurisdiction over part of its territory?
  • One problem for the EU is that SPS goods still require customs declarations. Even Northern Ireland animal products that could pass freely over the border because of common agri-food rules would have to undergo customs checks.
  • While the EU is willing to look at alternative customs arrangements, its view is that they aren’t ready yet. Nor does the U.K., according to discussions in Brussels. Britain’s government wants to work on them during the transition period that begins after Brexit day — which the EU won’t accept. It wants the backstop to be “legally operable” immediately.


EU hails announcement of Syria constitutional committee

The EU on Thursday welcomed the announcement of agreement on the formation of a Syrian constitutional committee.

“The EU has consistently affirmed that any sustainable solution to the conflict requires a genuine political transition as outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015) and the 2012 Geneva Communique negotiated by the Syrian parties within the UN-led Geneva process,” according to a statement from the office of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday announced the formation of a body to write a new constitution for Syria following more than eight years of war that have devastated the country and its people.

Guterres said the constitutional committee can and must be the beginning of a political process to end the conflict.

“The EU therefore looks forward to the inaugural meeting of the committee at the earliest possible opportunity and will monitor developments thereafter most closely. This is a definite step forward, and one that is certainly full of potential,” the statement read.

The EU also underlined the urgent need for positive developments in parallel to the work in the constitutional committee.

“To recall, the EU will be ready to assist in the reconstruction of Syria when a comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition, in the framework of UNSCR [UN Security Council Resolution] 2254 and the Geneva process, is firmly under way,” it added.

The bloc also expressed willingness to support the developing peace process in Syria in whatever way it can, in close conjunction and coordination with the UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million others displaced, according to UN officials.


EU to leave JCPOA if Trump wins second term: analyst

Speaking to Mehr correspondent on Monday, Momeni said the European sides to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), namely the UK, France, Germany and the EU, are only biding their time to see what happens in the future.

“The Europeans are waiting for the result of the US 2020 election in order to base their final decision on it. I am fully confident that if Donald Trump wins a second term, EU will leave the nuclear deal,” he said.

Trump withdrew the US from the JCPOA in May 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran which had been lifted under the agreement. The remaining sides to the deal – UK, France, China, Russia plus Germany and the EU – have been trying to persuade Iran to stay in the deal by offering an alternative trade mechanism, and most recently, a $15 billion credit line.

Momeni said, however, that both proposals have not become operational yet, and neither of them seem to be of much use to Iran, anyway.

“Europeans have not taken any tangible and positive measures to safeguard Iran’s interests under the JCPOA. It seems like they are only seeking for an excuse to put the blame on Iran for failing to live up to its commitments,” he added.

“From what we have seen so far, I doubt the European sides would do anything useful in the third 60-day deadline Iran has given them,” he said, referring to Iran’s step-by-step cuts to its commitments to the JCPOA as a countermeasure to US’ withdrawal and EU’s continued failure to shield Iran from US sanctions.


British PM likens himself to Incredible Hulk ahead of Brexit talks

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson likened himself to the Incredible Hulk in an interview on Saturday ahead of talks with European leaders.

“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” Johnson told the Mail on Sunday newspaper. “Hulk always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be and that is the case for this country.”

Johnson made the remarks ahead of talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker and European Union (EU)’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Luxembourg on Monday.

Media reports from mainland Europe indicate that Johnson may face an uphill struggle securing the kind of deal he is seeking to bring Britain out of the bloc.

Johnson said he was “very confident” and “a huge amount of progress” was made. “We will come out on October 31, and we will get it done.”

Johnson repeated that “under no circumstances” would he delay Brexit.


Iranian interior min. hails EU political support despite US threats

Speaking in northeastern city of Mashhad, the capital city of the province of Razavi Khorasan on Saturday, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli hailed the European countries’ support for Iran under the US sanctions, while criticizing them for not sticking to their economic promises to Iran.

Rahmani Fazli noted that the enemies seek regime change in Iran and want to overthrow the Islamic Establishment through economic pressures.

Meanwhile, the interior minister said that despite all the foreign pressures, the country’s trade relations with the outside world is continuing.

He recalled the Leader’s insistence on pursuing the principles of the Resistance Economy doctrine as a way out of the economic problems, calling for relying on internal resources and the market of the neighboring countries.