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Papal resignation leaves Vatican with crosses to bear - by Mehdi Chebil

Some 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world are waiting for a new spiritual leader following Benedict XVI’s formal resignation as pope on February 28. As 115 cardinals prepare to hold a conclave to elect the new leader of one of the oldest institutions in the world, FRANCE 24 takes a look at seven crucial issues facing the Vatican.

The latest scandal to hit the Vatican involved claims of a network of senior clergymen who took part in gay sex parties and then faced blackmail. According to a report last week in the Italian daily La Repubblica, the widespread blackmail of this “gay lobby” factored heavily into Benedict XVI’s decision to resign.
The Vatican vehemently denied the allegations, slamming the “false and damaging” reports in the Italian press. But a former Dominican friar, now openly gay, said earlier this week that the issue of homosexuality was a “ticking time bomb” in the Catholic Church. “When you have this culture of secrecy and guilt and repression, you have conditions which foster the potential for blackmail and manipulation,” Mark Dowd told CNN.

Benedict XVI has been praised for condemning paedophilia more strongly than his predecessors, but critics claim that he hasn’t taken any serious steps to change the church’s culture of denial and cover-ups. The Vatican has yet to come clean regarding its response to past child sex crimes and the hierarchy’s role in silencing the victims.

At least one of the cardinals accused of covering up child sex abuse will take part in the conclave to elect the successor to Benedict XVI. The media spotlight in the United States is on Cardinal Roger Mahony, a former Los Angeles archbishop currently under judicial investigation for his alleged efforts to conceal abuses by priests from the secular authorities. A group called Catholics United gathered almost 10,000 signatures against Mahony’s participation in the next conclave.

Times are tough for secretive financial institutions, and the Vatican Bank is no exception. Documents leaked earlier this year by Benedict XVI’s former butler claimed that the Vatican was far from being in line with international standards on preventing money laundering.

Despite the Holy See’s efforts to put the lid on any shady dealings, the US State Department added the Vatican to its 2012 list of countries that merited concern for their “vulnerability” to money laundering. Infighting at the Vatican’s financial arm reached the boiling point last May, when the head of the Vatican Bank was ousted. Moments after storming out of his last bank board meeting, Gotti Tedeschi told Reuters that he had “paid the price for [promoting] transparency”.

Read more: Papal resignation leaves Vatican with crosses to bear - VATICAN - FRAN

France, UK appear headed for about-face on campaigns in Africa

Not long after France sent soldiers to Mali to prevent what was becoming a militant Islamist rout of that country's forces, the talk in London was of a "new front in the war on terror" in North Africa, led by the United Kingdom and Europe taking the place of an increasingly hesitant United States.

But a month later, such talk seems like so much political posturing and wishful thinking.

As John Kerry, the new US secretary of state, holds talks with Britain's prime minister, David Cameron, on the first stop of a nine-day trip through Europe and the Middle East, it is clear that the capacity for sustained military involvement by the United Kingdom and France is sharply limited, not least because the public's perception of the threat posed by recent events in North Africa is not dire enough to sustain such engagement.

The predictions were very different at the end of January when Mr Cameron made the first visit by a British prime minister to post-independence Algeria, promising to improve security coordination in the wake of the deadly attack by gunmen on the Ain Aminas oil and gas field where hundreds of hostages were taken by an Islamist gang claiming affiliation with Al Qaeda.

Read more: France, UK appear headed for about-face on campaigns in Africa - The National

Trade between Europe and Africa: how to resuscitate an ailing deal - by Isabelle Ramdoo

Trade negotiations between Europe and Africa seem to have stalled. Despite both sides last year celebrating the 10th anniversary of the start of negotiations over economic partnership agreements (EPAs), their attention now appears to have shifted elsewhere.

In crisis-ridden Europe, leaders are stressing the important contribution of trade to jobs and growth for economic recovery in Europe, as they did during the last European council in early February. They call for ambitious, proactive and constructive trade engagements with their "strategic partners". But, interestingly, these partners are located on the other side of the Atlantic and in emerging Asian economies, as a letter by José Manuel Barroso, president of the European commission to Herman Van Rompuy, president of the council, highlights.

In his address to the commission, Barroso made no mention of Africa or the controversial EPAs, which haven't been finalised by many, despite 10 long and difficult years of negotiations. And it's no surprise why: the negotiations have been disappointing. Of the 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries negotiating with the EU, only 36 finalised an agreement, of which only 18 are in Africa.

Read more: Trade between Europe and Africa: how to resuscitate an ailing deal | Global Development Professionals Network | Guardian Professional

Financial Industry:Europe caps bank bonuses at double annual salary

Top European Union officials have agreed to slap a strict limit on bankers' bonuses, which have been blamed for encouraging the risk-taking behaviour that triggered the financial crisis.

The move is part of a broad package of financial laws that includes requiring banks to hold more capital reserves in an effort to shield taxpayers from having to pay for more expensive bailouts.

Bankers' bonuses will be limited at a maximum of one year's base salary and will only be allowed to reach twice the fixed pay if a large majority of a bank's shareholders agrees, Othmar Karas, the European Parliament's chief negotiator, said Thursday.

Read more: Europe caps bank bonuses at double annual salary - Business - CBC New

Iran and global powers end nuclear talks with cautious optimism

Two days of negotiations between global powers and Iran have ended with little to show for. But more discussions on Tehran’s nuclear program have been scheduled in a show of confidence building.

Emerging from two days of talks in Kazakhstan, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressed cautious optimism. "I hope the Iranian side is looking positively on the proposal we put forward," Ashton said.

Diplomats from the so-called "P5+1" group of nations reportedly offered Tehran limited sanctions relief - such as the resumption of metal and gold trading and some international banking activity in return for Iranian agreement to curb its uranium enrichment program, which Security Council members believe is intended to create nuclear weapons.

Read more: Iran and global powers end nuclear talks with cautious optimism | News | DW.DE | 27.02.2013


US Economy-Sequestration cuts :" White House, Republicans dig in ahead of budget talks"

 Positions hardened on Wednesday between President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders over the budget crisis even as they arranged to hold last-ditch talks to prevent harsh automatic spending cuts beginning this week.

Looking resigned to the $85 billion in "sequestration" cuts starting on Friday, government agencies began reducing costs and spelling out to employees how furloughs will work.

Expectations were low that a White House meeting on Friday between Obama and congressional leaders, including Republican foes, would produce any deal to avoid the cuts.

Public services across the country - from air traffic control to food safety inspections and education - might be disrupted if the cuts go ahead.

Sequestration cuts -

Hungary -Economy: Forint Drops to Four-Week Low on Hungarian Central Bank Outlook

The forint fell to its weakest in four weeks on speculation the central bank will keep cutting interest rates and may take other steps to ease monetary policy after a new chief takes over next week.

Hungary’s currency declined for a second day after the Magyar Nemzeti Bank cut rates for the seventh month to a record low yesterday at the last meeting before bank President Andras Simor’s term ends this week. Economy Minister Gyorgy Matolcsy, who has urged policy makers to strengthen their support for economic growth, will take over from Simor next week, Napi Gazdasag newspaper reported today, matching earlier reports.

“Further rate reductions will depend on external sentiment and possibly unorthodox policies of the new management of the central bank,” Orsolya Nyeste and Zoltan Arokszallasi, Budapest-based analysts at Erste Group Bank AG, said in a research report today. “Both factors will also drive the forint which we see weakening to above 300 versus the euro by the end of the first quarter.”

Read more: Forint Drops to Four-Week Low on Hungary Central Bank Outlook - Bloomberg

US, Europe eye greater involvement in Syrian conflict with new aid to opposition, rebels

The United States and some European allies are edging closer to direct involvement in Syria's civil war with plans to deliver meals, medical kits and other forms of nonlethal assistance to the rebels battling President Bashar Assad.

The U.S., Britain, France and Italy aren't planning to supply the Free Syrian Army with weapons or ammunition. But moves are afoot to significantly boost the size and scope of their aid to the political and military opposition. Such decisions could be announced as early as Thursday at an international conference on Syria in Rome.

Britain and France are keen to give the rebels the means to protect themselves from attacks by Assad's forces, including Scud missiles fired in recent days against the city of Aleppo, U.S. and European officials say.
Assistance could mean combat armor, vehicles and other equipment not deemed to be offensive, the officials said. It could include training in battlefield medical care and the protection of human rights, they said.

Read more: US, Europe eye greater involvement in Syrian conflict with new aid to opposition, rebels | Fox News

Berlusconi’s Surge Shows Why Europe Needs a Deeper Union

The return of Silvio Berlusconi to the Italian political stage sends an unmistakable message to Europe’s leaders: They will have to be a lot more ambitious if they want to hold their currency union together.

In parliamentary elections this week, Italian voters handed Berlusconi just enough power to make forming a stable government extremely difficult. In doing so, voters soundly rejected the technocratic policies of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, whose efforts to raise taxes, cut pensions and curb budget deficits helped bring the government back from the brink of insolvency. One in four Italians further rebuffed Monti’s austerity diet by voting for a comedian. Stock markets plunged, and the yield on Italy’s 10-year bond rose to 4.9 percent, its highest level since November.

The turnaround illustrates the complicated game Europe’s policy makers are playing as they seek simultaneously to calm nervous markets and to push the euro area’s afflicted members to repair their finances. To make solvency achievable for countries such as Spain and Italy, the European Central Bank has rightly pledged its unlimited support to keep borrowing costs down. By removing the threat of imminent financial Armageddon, however, the ECB’s support has taken the pressure off voters to keep approving austerity policies that are driving their economies into recession.

The euro area also needs a better way to keep its members’ borrowing in check. Jointly issued and collectively backed euro bonds, for example, have the potential to lower borrowing costs while giving a central authority significant control over individual governments’ ability to run budget deficits. Interestingly, this idea is supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s main opponents in elections scheduled for September.

All the best solutions to the euro crisis have one thing in common: They involve the creation of a much deeper union. It’s up to Europe’s leaders -- and particularly Germany’s -- to convince their constituents that such a union is in their best interests.

Read more: Berlusconi’s Surge Shows Why Europe Needs a Deeper Union - Bloombweg


Aircraft Industry - Safety: Aircraft fumes are a potential deadly travel hazard

How dangerous is the air pilots and passengers breathe on commercial flights? Two British Airways pilots are believed to have died as a result of contaminated air. The airline industry is under pressure to make changes.

In the summer of 2012, fumes in the cockpit of a German Wings flight made the pilots so nauseous that they just barely managed to land their plane at Cologne airport. Since then, in December and January, two British Airways pilots are believed to have died as a result of contaminated air.

The phenomenon of aircraft fumes has been known for years, but it is only ever discussed on the quiet because it is detrimental to the reputation of aviation.

For more than 50 years, cockpits and cabins in commercial jet planes have been ventilated with fresh air via so-called bleed air systems. Compressed air is drawn into the ventilation system through the engines - a time-tested, low-cost method, which the industry says works reliably if everything is set up, maintained and monitored properly. In the case of defective gasket seals and malfunctioning power units, however, tiny droplets of vaporized engine oil might seep into the air, releasing a distinct smell in both the cockpit and cabin.
Lufthansa chief pilot Werner Knorr conceded that much in a letter to his colleagues that was made available to DW.

Knorr stressed, however, that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Europe's top regulator of civilian aviation safety, "sees no reason for immediate and fundamental legal regulations in view of current reports and findings."

Germany's cabin crew union UFO takes a different view. Every month, the union said, it receives about 20 reports from cabin crew members detailing incidents of odor development during take-off and landing phases. "Symptoms include headaches, mucus membrane irritation and nausea," Andreas Sitek of the union's health task force told DW. "Some complain of sleeplessness and muscle spasms."

Eva Lichtenberger, an Austrian Greens politician and member of the EU parliament, proposed that EASA collect more comprehensive data on incidents involving contaminated cabin air. Such data might possibly lead to recommendations or legal regulations for improved safety features for passengers and flight crews.

Read more: Aircraft fumes are a potential travel hazard | Germany | DW.DE | 26.02.2013

Germany -Turkey: Merkel's difficult dialogue with Erdogan

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan could not bridge their differences on key topics but agreed to continue an open dialogue. Both leaders hailed strong economic ties. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed support for reviving Turkey's EU accession process on Monday (25.02.2013), but urged Ankara to take steps towards normalizing relations with Cyprus.
"We want the process to advance, despite the fact that I am still skeptical about Turkey's full membership of the EU," Merkel said following talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. She stressed that proceeding with the accession talks would depend on Ankara's Cyprus policy, and urged Turkey to open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus.

Turkey began EU accession negotiations in 2005, but has made little progress since then partly because of opposition from former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as the Cyprus problem.

While current French President Francois Hollande recently signaled a policy change and Merkel promised support for Turkey's EU process, Cyprus remains the major stumbling block.
Merkel and Erdogan held long talks in Ankara.
Prime Minister Erdogan gently turned down Merkel's demand on Monday, stressing that the Greek-led Republic of Cyprus does not represent the whole island - rather it is one of the two political entities in the divided country. Earlier, Merkel also called on Turkey to extend its customs union with the EU to Cyprus, saying that this would be “neither a bad nor a difficult thing” for Turkey, but would help clear the path to the EU.
Turkey does not officially recognize the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member, and says it will only extend the customs union to the island following a comprehensive settlement there.
Read more: Merkel's difficult dialogue with Erdogan | Europe | DW.DE | 25.02.2013

US Economy: Sequestration: Bring it on! - "who listens to politicians anymore ?" - by Roger Simon

Politicians have lost their power to frighten me. I no longer believe the sky is falling. I have lived through America’s past disasters: Vietnam. Watergate. Disco.

We survived them all. We have grown strong at the broken places. But now the polls have come up with a new word to panic us: sequester.

It is supposed to scare us witless. But, in truth, hearing a politician tell us, “We are heading toward sequester” is really no scarier than hearing the words, “I don’t like the looks of that mole” or “Welcome to Carnival Cruise Lines.”

The sequester was designed to be so horrible that both the Republicans and Democrats in Congress would recoil from it.

All sorts of things will be cut under a sequester: border security, airport security, Head Start, public housing support, NASA, special education, the FBI, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and national defense.

But do you know what does not get cut? Take a guess. That’s right:
The salaries of senators and representatives do not get cut under sequester.  Congressional staffers — those people who actually read and write the laws, get coffee and have to go before the cameras to explain why their boss has been found in a Motel 6 with a pole dancer named Mercedes Dee Lite — face a 20 percent pay cut through furloughs.

But members of Congress? Their six-figure salaries will continue to roll in, even as money to Medicare patients gets cut.

So why did anybody expect Congress to be repelled by a sequester?

Read more: Sequestration: Bring it on! - Roger Simon -

Other eurozone members watching developments in Italy which could have a knock-out effect on block

Beppe Grillo the man to watch
The results, notably by the dramatic surge of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of comic Beppe Grillo, left the center-left bloc with a majority in the lower house but without the numbers to control the powerful upper chamber, the Senate.

Financial markets fell sharply at the prospect of a stalemate that reawakened memories of the crisis that pushed Italy's borrowing costs toward unsustainably high levels and brought the euro zone to the brink of collapse in 2011.

"The winner is: Ingovernability," ran the headline in Rome newspaper Il Messaggero, reflecting the deadlock the country will have to confront in the next few weeks as sworn enemies are forced to work together to form a government.

Pier Luigi Bersani, head of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), has the difficult task of trying to agree a "grand coalition" with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the man he blames for ruining Italy, or striking a deal with Grillo, a completely unknown quantity in conventional politics.
he results, notably by the dramatic surge of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of comic Beppe Grillo, left the center-left bloc with a majority in the lower house but without the numbers to control the powerful upper chamber, the Senate.

Financial markets fell sharply at the prospect of a stalemate that reawakened memories of the crisis that pushed Italy's borrowing costs toward unsustainably high levels and brought the euro zone to the brink of collapse in 2011.

"The winner is: Ingovernability," ran the headline in Rome newspaper Il Messaggero, reflecting the deadlock the country will have to confront in the next few weeks as sworn enemies are forced to work together to form a government.

Pier Luigi Bersani, head of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), has the difficult task of trying to agree a "grand coalition" with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the man he blames for ruining Italy, or striking a deal with Grillo, a completely unknown quantity in conventional politics.

 Read more: Italy parties seek way out of election stalemate | Reuters


Stocks plunge on Italian election results

Stocks had their worst drop in more than three months as the prospect of political paralysis in Italy raised the specter of Europe's debt crisis flaring up again. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 216.40 points, or 1.6 percent, to 13,784.17, its biggest drop since Nov. 7.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 27.75 points, or 1.8 percent, to 1,487.85, dropping below 1,500 for the first time in three weeks. The Nasdaq composite dropped 45.57 points, or 1.4 percent, to 3,116.25.
Stocks had rallied in the early going as exit polls showed that a center-left coalition in Italy that favored economic reforms in the euro region's third-largest economy was leading. That gain evaporated after a later poll predicted that the elections could result in a stalemate in the country's legislature. The losses accelerate in the late afternoon as partial official results showed an upstart protest campaign led by a comedian making stunning inroads.

Read more: Stocks plunge on Italian election results - CBS News

US Health Care - a warning for European medical free marketeers: "the free market in American medicine is a myth"

Those who work in the health care industry and those who argue over health care policy seem inured to the shock. When we debate health care policy, we seem to jump right to the issue of who should pay the bills, blowing past what should be the first question: Why exactly are the bills so high? 

What are the reasons, good or bad, that cancer means a half-million- or million-dollar tab for people living in America? Why should a trip to the emergency room for chest pains that turn out to be indigestion bring a bill that can exceed the cost of a semester of college? What makes a single dose of even the most wonderful wonder drug cost thousands of dollars? Why does simple lab work done during a few days in a hospital cost more than a car? And what is so different about the medical ecosystem that causes technology advances to drive bills up instead of down?

In hundreds of small and midsize cities across the country — from Stamford, Conn., to Marlton, N.J., to Oklahoma City — the American health care market has transformed tax-exempt “nonprofit” hospitals into the towns’ most profitable businesses and largest employers, often presided over by the regions’ most richly compensated executives. And in our largest cities, the system offers lavish paychecks even to midlevel hospital managers, like the 14 administrators at New York City’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who are paid over $500,000 a year, including six who make over $1 million.

Taken as a whole, these powerful institutions and the bills they churn out dominate the nation’s economy and put demands on taxpayers to a degree unequaled anywhere else on earth. In the U.S., people spend almost 20% of the gross domestic product on health care, compared with about half that in most developed countries. Yet in every measurable way, the results our health care system produces are no better and often worse than the outcomes in those countries.

According to one of a series of exhaustive studies done by the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm, we spend more on health care than the next 10 biggest spenders combined: Japan, Germany, France, China, the U.K., Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Australia. We may be shocked at the $60 billion price tag for cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy. We spent almost that much last week on health care. We spend more every year on artificial knees and hips than what Hollywood collects at the box office. We spend two or three times that much on durable medical devices like canes and wheelchairs, in part because a heavily lobbied Congress forces Medicare to pay 25% to 75% more for this equipment than it would cost at Walmart.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 10 of the 20 occupations that will grow the fastest in the U.S. by 2020 are related to health care. America’s largest city may be commonly thought of as the world’s financial-services capital, but of New York’s 18 largest private employers, eight are hospitals and four are banks.

Employing all those people in the cause of curing the sick is, of course, not anything to be ashamed of. But the drag on our overall economy that comes with taxpayers, employers and consumers spending so much more than is spent in any other country for the same product is unsustainable. Health care is eating away at our economy and our treasury.

The health care industry seems to have the will and the means to keep it that way. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the pharmaceutical and health-care-product industries, combined with organizations representing doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, health services and HMOs, have spent $5.36 billion since 1998 on lobbying in Washington. That dwarfs the $1.53 billion spent by the defense and aerospace industries and the $1.3 billion spent by oil and gas interests over the same period. That’s right: the health-care-industrial complex spends more than three times what the military-industrial complex spends in Washington.

When you crunch data compiled by McKinsey and other researchers, the big picture looks like this: We’re likely to spend $2.8 trillion this year on health care. That $2.8 trillion is likely to be $750 billion, or 27%, more than we would spend if we spent the same per capita as other developed countries, even after adjusting for the relatively high per capita income in the U.S. vs. those other countries. Of the total $2.8 trillion that will be spent on health care, about $800 billion will be paid by the federal government through the Medicare insurance program for the disabled and those 65 and older and the Medicaid program, which provides care for the poor.

That $800 billion, which keeps rising far faster than inflation and the gross domestic product, is what’s driving the federal deficit. The other $2 trillion will be paid mostly by private health-insurance companies and individuals who have no insurance or who will pay some portion of the bills covered by their insurance. This is what’s increasingly burdening businesses that pay for their employees’ health insurance and forcing individuals to pay so much in out-of-pocket expenses.

Note EU-Digest: this in depth report by Time Magazine should be read by every politician in Europe calling for a free market based health-care system. As the American model of healthcare has proven it does not provide affordable healthcare.

Read more: Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us |

Russia: Lavrov Lambastes EU Over Visa Fairness

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday accused the European Union of employing a double standard when it agreed to allow nondiplomatic Ukrainian officials to enter member states without a visa. “A Ukrainian bureaucrat is no different from a Russian one,” he told students at Moscow’s Diplomatic Academy.

Russian and Ukrainian diplomats are permitted to enter the EU without a visa. But while Ukrainian service passport bearers, which can be rank-and-file ministerial officials, are also allowed visa-free entry, their Russian counterparts aren’t. Russia will not tolerate this “discriminatory approach,” Lavrov told the assembly.

The same day, the EU presented Georgia with a set of benchmarks to meet in order to establish a visa-free regime. Last week, Lavrov and his EU counterpart, Catherine Ashton, recognized that such a regime between Russia and the EU would not be possible before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

“The EU approaches countries on a case-by-case basis and does not compare them,” EU delegation spokesman Soren Liborius told The Moscow Times on Monday. Ukraine’s case is different because it unilaterally lifted visa requirements for all citizens of the EU.

According to Liborius, the service passport issue is “the only obstacle” that prevents Russia and the EU from concluding an amended visa facilitation agreement and will be even “broader than the one that was signed with Ukraine, as it includes more categories of people.”

Ukraine concluded an amended visa facilitation agreement with the EU in July 2012, which introduced enhanced visa-obtaining procedures for such categories as journalists and representatives of civil society organizations, among others.

Read more: Lavrov Lambastes EU Over Visa Fairness | News | The Moscow Times

US Economy: While Sequester Looms, Congress Eyes Next Fiscal Deadline

On Friday, $85 billion in automatic spending cuts are set to take effect if our elected officials fail to act. Over the next decade, a total of $1.2 trillion in government cuts to both domestic and defense spending are expected to impact the U.S. economy.

This is the sequestration process that was agreed to two years ago, which was supposed to be headed off before reaching this point, as The Daily Ticker Henry Blodget details in the accompanying clip with Yahoo! Finance senior columnist Michael Santoli.

Read more: While Sequester Looms, Congress Eyes Next Fiscal Deadline | Daily Ticker - Yahoo! Finance

Italy's Bersani keen to soften tough reform plans

Initial results point to Italy's center-left alliance as the largest group in the newly-elected parliament. Former Communist Pier Luigi Bersani could be the next premier. 

The election campaign was fierce and personal. In one television program, 61-year-old Pier Luigi Bersani said that he has no problem with his own bald head with its halo of black hair around the sides - an allusion to his main rival, Silvio Berlusconi.

Bersani, who is not a man of grandiose gestures and likes to keep things simple, differs markedly from Berlusconi, who makes no effort to hide his repeated face-liftings and hair implants. Quite the contrary: the 76-year-old Berlusconi even makes fun of his age and the attempts to regain his youth. "I used to look younger. Who was it that got rid of all the mirrors that showed that?" he said with a wry smile during an election rally.

Read more: Italy's Bersani keen to soften tough reform plans | Europe | DW.DE | 25.02.2013

France: German Bundesbank President Says France Needs to Control Its Deficit

The head of the German central bank said Monday that France should not give up trying to bring its government deficit below 3 percent of gross domestic product, adding to the criticism being heaped on President François Hollande of France from abroad.

Jens Weidmann, president of the Bundesbank, cloaked his rebuke in the language of French-German solidarity and was considerably more diplomatic than Maurice M. Taylor Jr., the head of the American tire maker Titan International, who sparked a furor last week when he told the French industry minister that French workers were lazy. 

Still, Mr. Weidmann was the latest prominent person to lecture the increasingly defensive French on how they should manage their economy. 

Speaking in Paris at the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, a leading business school, Mr. Weidmann noted that unemployment in France was above 10 percent while France’s share of world exports had declined by 25 percent since the euro made its debut. Total government debt “has reached a level that could potentially hurt growth,” Mr. Weidmann said.

Read more: Bundesbank President Says France Needs to Control Its Deficit -

Italian Election Chaos: Centre-left and Berlusconi neck and neck in Italy poll - by Benjamin Dodman

Voting has ended in Italy's general election, with wildly conflicting projections pointing to a far closer race than initially thought, after a lacklustre campaign overshadowed by a spate of corruption scandals involving all the major parties.

Italy's general election descended into chaos on Monday amid conflicting reports pointing first to a victory for the centre-left alliance of Pier Luigi Bersani and then for Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right bloc.

As voting ended at 3pm on Monday, exit polls for the key Senate race gave the centre-left coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani between 36% and 38% of the vote, followed by Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right bloc (30%-32%) and the anti-establishment movement of firebrand comedian Beppe Grillo (17%-19%).
But less than an hour later, early results pointed to yet another spectacular comeback by the “Cavaliere”.

Final results for the Senate are expected later in the afternoon. Election officials will then begin counting votes cast for the lower house of parliament.
A complex electoral system, dubbed “porcellum” (or pigsty), means all eyes will be on a handful of hotly contested Senate races, including in Lombardy, Sicily and the Campania region around Naples.

The inconclusive poll follows a lacklustre campaign overshadowed by a spate of corruption scandals involving all the major parties.

The reports fueled anger among voters burdened by unpopular austerity measures and surging unemployment.

Even by the self-deprecating standards of Italy, the frustration and despair sensed at polling stations appeared to have reached unprecedented levels.

“We are in economic, cultural and moral decline, so it is no surprise our politics go the same way,” said one voter outside Florence's Liceo Machiavelli.

 Read more: talian polit


Freight Shipping Companies: Denmark's Maersk 2012 revenue down 2%

Worlds la4rgest container shipping company Moller-Maersk CEO, Nils Smedegaard Andersen, announced that the shipping and oil firm's revenue for 2012 fell by 2 percent to USD59 billion from USD60.2 billion.

Andersen said that net profit for the year reached USD4 billion, whereas pre-tax profit plunged by 22 percent to USD7.3 billion from USD9.4 billion.

Meanwhile, the Danish company's container shipping division Maersk Line posted a profit of USD461 million, compared with a shortfall of USD553 million a year earlier.

Furthermore, the average freight rates in 2012 rose by 1.9 percent, while volumes went up by 5 percent.

Profit of Maersk Oil edged up to USD2.4 billion from USD2.1 billion in 2011, even though the unit's oil and gas output dropped by 23 perce

Read more: Denmark's Maersk 2012 revenue down 2% - MENAFN

Kremlin Writes Off Most of Cuba's $30Bln Debt: by Alexander Bratersky

Russia has agreed to cancel most of Cuba’s $30 billion Soviet-era debt — the country’s biggest debt cancellation in years, according to an agreement reached during Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to the Caribbean island late last week.

Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov, who accompanied Medvedev during his visit to Cuba, said Russia would write off most of its debt to Cuba. The remainder of the debt will be restructured within 10 years.

Both sides announced that they had signed a preliminary agreement and the final one will be concluded in several months. “We will complete all the formalities by September,” Manturov told reporters Friday.

Moscow’s decision to cancel Cuba’s debt comes in the wake of similar agreements with Afghanistan, North Korea, Iraq, Syria and Libya. Russia has written off a total of $138 billion in debts owed by former clients and allies, according to estimates provided by the news site.

The debt cancellation is a part of a deal under which Cuba will possibly lease Russian civilian aircraft, Manturov said, Interfax reported Friday. Manturov said Cuba will get several Russian planes worth $650 million.

According to the agreement, Russia will provide Cuba with three An-158 planes, three Il-96-400 aircraft and two Tu-204s. The planes will be used by Cuban carrier Cubana, whose fleet almost fully consists of Russian-made airliners. Cuba, which has been under a U.S. embargo since 1961, was once a leading buyer of Soviet equipment. Bilateral trade between the two countries has grown but it accounted for a mere $224.7 million in 2011, according to Industry Ministry data.

Note EU-Digest: this might also be the time for the US to lift the embargo on Cuba which would be an economic win-win situation for both countries

Read more: Kremlin Writes Off Most of Cuba's $30Bln Debt | News | The Moscow Times

Europe holds its breath as Italy votes

Will Italy stay the course with painful economic reform? Or fall back into the old habit of profligacy and inertia? These are the stakes as Italy votes in a watershed parliamentary election on Sunday and Monday that could shape the future of one of Europe’s biggest economies.

Fellow E.U. countries and investors are watching closely, as the decisions that Italy makes over the next several months promise to have a profound impact on whether Europe can decisively put out the flames of its financial crisis. Greece’s troubles in recent years were enough to spark a series of market panics. With an economy almost 10 times the size of Greece’s, Italy is simply too big a country for Europe, and the world, to see fail. 

Leading the electoral pack is Pier Luigi Bersani, a former communist who has shown a pragmatic streak in supporting tough economic reforms spearheaded by incumbent Mario Monti. On Mr. Bersani’s heels is Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire media mogul seeking an unlikely political comeback after being forced from the premiership by Italy’s debt crisis. Mr. Monti, while widely credited with saving Italy from financial ruin, is trailing badly as he pays the price for the suffering caused by austerity measures. 

Then there’s the wild card: comic-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, whose protest movement against the entrenched political class has been drawing tens of thousands to rallies in piazzas across Italy. If his self-styled political “tsunami” sweeps into Parliament with a big chunk of seats, Italy could be in store for a prolonged period of political confusion that would spook the markets. 

While a man of the left, Mr. Bersani has shown himself to have a surprising amount in common with the centre-right Mr. Monti and the two have hinted at the possibility of teaming up in a coalition. Mr. Bersani was Mr. Monti’s most loyal backer in Parliament during the respected economist’s tenure at the head of a technocratic government. And in ministerial posts in previous centre-left governments, Mr. Bersani fought hard to free up such areas of the economy as energy, insurance and banking services.

Read more: The Hindu : International / World : Europe holds its breath as Italy votes

Right-wing leader 'wins' Cyprus presidency

Conservative leader Nicos Anastasiades has won the presidential election in Cyprus, state television has reported.

Anastasiades, who scored a decisive victory in Sunday's the presidential runoff vote, took between 57.5 and 61.5 percent of the vote, according to the exit poll by state broadcaster CyBC.

Communist-backed rival Stavros Malas trailed with between 38.5 and 42.5 percent, according to the poll.
Anastasiades will now be tasked with negotiating a crucial bailout for the European Union state on the brink of bankruptcy. His rival Malas is more wary of the austerity terms accompanying any rescue.

The announcement sparked instant celebrations with a large crowd gathering outside the offices in Nicosia of the winner's Disy party and supporters honking car horns across Nicosia.

Read more: Right-wing leader 'wins' Cyprus presidency - Europe - Al Jazeera English

John Kerry embarks on sweeping tour of Europe, Middle East

America's top diplomat John Kerry began his first official trip as secretary of state on Sunday, a marathon get-acquainted tour of America's closest allies in Europe and the Middle East.

A plane carrying the news US secretary of state and his team took off from Joint Base Andrews outside Washington at around 7:15 am local time (1215 GMT).

Kerry will visit the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar from February 24 to March 6.

The first stop will be London, where Kerry will meet with senior British officials, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Friday.

Kerry travels on to Berlin where, in addition to meeting Germans, he will encounter his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, for a tricky exchange at a time when Moscow and Washington are at loggerheads on many issues.

Read more: John Kerry embarks on sweeping tour of Europe, Mideast - FRANCE 24

Cyber Crime: China says U.S. hacking accusations lack technical proof

Accusations by a U.S. computer security company that a secretive Chinese military unit is likely behind a series of hacking attacks are scientifically flawed and hence unreliable, China’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday.

The statement came after the White House said overnight that the Obama administration has repeatedly taken up its concerns about cyber-theft at the highest levels of the Chinese government, including with Chinese military officials.

The security company, Mandiant, identified the People’s Liberation Army’s Shanghai-based Unit 61398 as the most likely driving force behind the hacking. Mandiant said it believed the unit had carried out “sustained” attacks on a wide range of industries.The security company, Mandiant, identified the People’s Liberation Army’s Shanghai-based Unit 61398 as the most likely driving force behind the hacking. Mandiant said it believed the unit had carried out “sustained” attacks on a wide range of industries.

China says U.S. hacking accusations lack technical proof - The Globe and Mail


Transaction Tax: The 0.03% Solution to Washington's Budget Problems - by Jesse Eisinger

The unwritten rule of Washington debates about taxing and spending is to never consider anything new. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if the pressure of the next few months’ debate changed that?

Last month, 11 European countries, including France and Germany, moved forward on introducing a minuscule taxon trades in stocks, bonds and derivatives. The tax goes by many names. It’s often called a Tobin tax, after the economist James Tobin. In Europe it goes by the more pedestrian financial transaction tax. In Britain, it goes by the wonderful Robin Hood tax, and is supported in an often clever campaign.

On this side of the Atlantic, there is a ghostly silence on a transaction tax in respectable political quarters. But that might change. This month, Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, and Representative Peter DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon, plan to reintroduce their bill calling for just such a tax.

A transaction tax could raise a huge amount of money and cause less pain than many alternatives. It could offset the need for cuts to the social safety net or tax increases that damage consumer demand. How huge a sum? Mr. Harkin and Mr. DeFazio got an estimate from the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, which scores tax plans. It’s a hearty one: $352 billion over 10 years.

The money would come from a tiny levy. The bill calls for a three-basis-point charge on most trades. A basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point. So it amounts to 3 cents on every $100 traded.

Read more:The 0.03% Solution to Washington's Budget Problems -

Middle East: Egypt's El-Baradai calls for election boycott

Egyptian opposition politician Mohammed El-Baradei called Saturday for a boycott of upcoming parliamentary polls while President Mohammed Morsi accepted to change the dates following demands by Coptic Christians who claimed it interfered with Easter.

Islamists, who have won every election since the 2011 overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, dismissed any suggestion that the parliamentary polls would lack credibility and predicted a strong turnout.

While divisions between the Islamists and opposition remain deep, Mursi appeared ready to soothe anger among the Christian minority over the election schedule. The speaker of Egypt’s upper house said Mursi would change the dates to avoid Coptic Christians having to vote during their Easter celebrations.
Mursi called the lower house elections on Thursday, aiming to conclude Egypt’s turbulent transition to democracy.

Read more: Egypt's ElBaradai calls for election boycott - EGYPT - FRANCE 24

Britain: Moody's Downgrades Britain: The Friday night drop - by Buttonwood

This Friday night drop was the old custom of PR men placing news stories in the grateful arms of Sunday newspaper financial editors. In return for an exclusive, they could usually guarantee a good press. Even the best PR man, however, would find it hard to spin Moody's decision to downgrade Britain from AAA to AA1, announced just before 10pm on a Friday night.

A lot of people thought the downgrade would happen at some point this year. Although the government had a bigger-than-expected surplus in January, it may well end up with a bigger deficit in 2012-13 than it did in 2011-12. The big spending cuts have yet to come. Austerity is planned not just for this Parliament but for the next. The economy is stuck in the doldrums, although at least unemployment has been falling. Moody's gives three reasons for the change.
"1, The continuing weakness in the UK's medium-term growth outlook, with a period of sluggish growth which Moody's now expects will extend into the second half of the decade;
2. The challenges that subdued medium-term growth prospects pose to the government's fiscal consolidation programme, which will now extend well into the next parliament;
3. And, as a consequence of the UK's high and rising debt burden, a deterioration in the shock-absorption capacity of the government's balance sheet, which is unlikely to reverse before 2016."
Downgrading Britain: The Friday night drop | The Economist

Euro crisis returns - in Italy, Spain and Cyprus

It was in autumn 2011: The euro crisis was getting worse and worse - and slowly spreading from smaller economies, like Greece and Portugal, to larger players, like Spain, and even Italy.

Especially controversial was Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, who was ridiculed for his positions and lack of action. As a result, his country's standing reached a new low. But then there was the 'great relief' of November 12 when Berlusconi stepped down. His job was taken over by Mario Monit – an economics professor, who, with his plans to get the budget back in order, won a lot of sympathy and trust, not just for Italy, but for the euro currency users as a whole.

Italy, however, remains a problem for the eurozone, says Lars Feld, economics professor at the University of Freiburg and member of the German Council of Economic Experts, which advises the government in Berlin. "With the Monti government, the country only temporarily has agreed to pursue consolidating its budget and tackling structural reform," Feld told Deutsche Welle.

Read more: Euro crisis returns - in Italy, Spain and Cyprus | Europe | DW.DE | 23.02.2013


Panic-driven austerity in the Eurozone and its implications - by Paul De Grauwe, Yuemei Ji

There is a strong perception that countries that introduced austerity programs in the Eurozone were somehow forced to do so by the financial markets. Is this perception based on a reality? Figure 1 shows the average interest rate spreads in 2011 on the horizontal axis and the intensity of austerity measures introduced during 2011 as measured by the Financial Times on the vertical axis. It is striking to find a very strong positive correlation.

The higher the spreads1 in 2011 the more intense were the austerity measures. The intensity of the spreads can be explained almost uniquely by the size of the spreads (the R-squared is 0.97). Note the two extremes. Greece was confronted with extremely high spreads in 2011 and applied the most severe austerity measures amounting to more than 10% of GDP per capita. Germany did not face any pressure from spreads and did not do any austerity.

The decision by the ECB in 2012 to commit itself to unlimited support of the government bond markets was a game changer in the Eurozone. It had dramatic effects. By taking away the intense existential fears that the collapse of the Eurozone was imminent the ECB’s lender of last resort commitment pacified government bond markets and led to a strong decline in the spreads of the Eurozone countries.

This decision of the ECB provides us with an interesting experiment to test these two theories about how spreads are formed. Figure 2 provides the evidence. On the vertical axis we show the change in the spreads in the Eurozone from the middle of 2012 (when the ECB announced its program) to the beginning of 2013. On the horizontal axis we present the initial spread, i.e. the one prevailing in the middle of 2012. We find a surprising phenomenon. The initial spread (i.e. in 2012Q2) explains almost all the subsequent variation in the spreads.

Thus the country with the largest initial spread (Greece) experienced the largest subsequent decline; the country with the second largest initial spread (Portugal) experienced the second largest subsequent decline, etc. In fact the points lie almost exactly on a straight line going through the origin. The regression equation indicates that 97% of the variation in the spreads is accounted for by the initial spread. It appears that the only variable that matters to explain the size of the decline in the spreads since the ECB announced its determination to be the lender of last resort is the initial level of the spread. Countries whose spread had climbed the most prior to the ECB announcement experienced the strongest decline in their spreads – a remarkable feature.

How well did this panic-induced austerity work? Countries that imposed the strongest austerity measures also experienced the strongest declines in their GDP. This result is in line with the IMF’s recent analysis (IMF 2012).

Read more: Panic-driven austerity in the Eurozone and its implications | vox

EU-DIGEST - its all about knowing the answers before the questions arise

EU-Digest brings you alternative news reports helping you figure out answers to what might become important for you in the future - at least before it's too late to react - after all, the future is not about asking the right questions. It’s about knowing the answers before the questions arise.  

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Airline Industry: Cost Cuts Helped Air France-KLM Trim Operating Loss in 2012 - Nicola Clarke

An aggressive cost-cutting effort at Air France-KLM showed the first faint signs of bearing fruit Friday, as the airline said it had managed to trim its operating losses last year despite a weakening European economy and higher fuel prices.

Air France-KLM, Europe’s third-largest airline by passengers, recorded an operating loss of €300 million, or about $400 million, for 2012, compared with a €353 million loss a year earlier, as efforts to rein in seat capacity led to higher average fares. Revenue for the year rose 5.2 percent to €25.6 billion, while net debt declined to €6 billion from €6.5 billion in 2011.

But one-time expenses associated with a deep restructuring begun last year widened the airline’s net loss to €1.19 billion from €809 million in 2011.  “They have made a good start, but it is an improvement that is still just barely visible,” said Yan Derocles, an analyst at Oddo Securities in Paris. 

Air France-KLM unveiled plans last June to shave more than €2 billion in costs, reduce debt and return to profit by the end of 2015. Despite the modest improvements achieved in the plan’s first six months, Jean-Cyril Spinetta, the carrier’s chief executive, stressed Friday in a statement that the company had laid the ground work for a more significant recovery this year.

Read more: Cost Cuts Helped Air France-KLM Trim Operating Loss in 2012 -

Agricultural Innovation: Transforming Shipping Containers Into Local Farms

Urban agriculture has a new hope, and its name is PodPonics. Based in Atlanta, the startup is pursuing a new kind of recycling: transform old shipping containers into miniature hydroponic farms that can be used to grow food anywhere. Started by Matt Liotta in 2010, PodPonics is already supplying about 200 pounds of leafy greens a week using six converted containers. Each “pod” can produce about one acre’s worth of produce in only 320 square feet. PodPonics crops use 90% less water than traditional farms, no pesticides, less fertilizer, and go from harvest to your plate in just a matter of hours!

This is just the beginning. PodPonics has 16 new pods being built on land at the Atlanta International Airport, raised $725,000+ in private investment, and is gaining partners at all levels of their operation. From LED lighting specialists to restaurants, everyone wants a piece of PodPonics. Check out Matt Liotta interviewed on CNN in the video below.

For those familiar with hydroponic farming techniques, PodPonics is pretty much what you’d expect. An old shipping container is retrofitted with up to five tiers of growing platforms where beds of lettuce are grown with their roots in water, not soil. Nutrients are added as needed, and banks of LED lights shine overhead.

PodPonics is primarily selling its produce to local restaurants at the moment, and has received rave reviews for the taste and consistency of their lettuce. Have they found a better formula for growing these greens, is eating produce just hours old simply much better for our tastebuds, or is it just hype? It’s unclear, but there’s little doubt that the Atlanta company is winning over many hearts, minds, and tongues.



Aircraft Industry: Airbus first A350 to fly gets its wing tip 'feathers'

Airbus A350
Sticking to the old rule that you never interrupt a rival when they making all the wrong noises Airbus has been rather quiet about the A350 lately.

But its Twitter feed did flash up this photo of the wing tip fences or feathers as have been sometimes called  being fitted to what looks like the first of the new wide body twin jets that will fly at the start of its test and certification program sometime before early June.

There now seems to be a reasonable prospect of the A350-900 entering service by the end of next year, which should if things turn around on the Dreamliner program, be about the same time the first of extended fuselage 787-9s are also delivered.

he new Airbus model is specified to be slightly larger in passenger seating but similar in range to the second version of the Boeing 787. Singapore Airlines was the first carrier to order both A350s and 787-9s but has now doubled its order for the former and punted the latter to its Scoot low cost subsidiary.

Air France KLM has also ordered both types, the Air France brand taking A350-900s in 2018 and the KLM brand starting with 787-9s in 2016, although the company that owns both airlines said that in due course each would fly each type across their networks.

Read more: Airbus first A350 to fly gets its wing tip 'feathers' | Plane Talking

USA - People Power: California Poised To Become Largest Electorate To Vote On Constitutional Amendment

California voters are poised to become the largest electorate to decide whether to support a constitutional amendment that would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.

California Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) introduced a bill, AB 644, Wednesday to put a measure on the state's 2014 ballot urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which lifted restrictions on political spending by corporations and labor unions. Independent spending in federal elections has exploded since the ruling.

"It's one thing for a legislator to say he wants this," Wieckowski said. "It's another thing for Congress to have direct instruction from the voters. There comes a tipping point where people are upset with billionaires having a disproportionate impact on our electoral system."

The measure is backed by campaign finance watchdog Common Cause. The group's growing effort includes ballot questions that allow voters in cities and states to weigh in on Citizens United.
“Giving the voters of the most populous state, the world’s ninth-largest economy, the chance to declare that Citizens United should be reversed would be historic and the momentum this reform movement needs to sweep the nation," said Phillip Ung, policy advocate for Common Cause. "As goes California, so goes the nation.”

Read more: Citizens United: California Poised To Become Largest Electorate To Vote On Constitutional Amendment

The Netherlands: EU Pensions Commission refers The Netherlands to Court for discriminating against Dutch pensioners abroad

The European Commission has referred The Netherlands to the EU's Court of Justice for failing to notify measures to stop discriminating against pensioners who live abroad when paying out an allowance for elderly taxpayers. This results from a discriminatory condition under Dutch law for entitlement to the 'koopkrachttegemoetkoming oudere belastingplichtigen' (purchasing power allowance for elderly taxpayers).

Dutch legislation which entered into force on 1 June 2011 provides that the allowance is paid to persons aged 65 years and above who can show that at least 90% of their world income is taxable in The Netherlands. This condition means that in practice the allowance is not granted to people living outside The Netherlands. The Commission has received a large number of complaints from citizens.

Under EU law on social security coordination, entitlement to an old age benefit cannot be conditional on the pensioner living in the Member State where he or she claims the benefit. This rule enables pensioners to move to another Member State when they retire whilst retaining their pension.

As the purchasing power allowance is paid to people 65 years of above, which coincides with retirement age in The Netherlands, the allowance is classed as an old-age benefit under EU social security coordination rules as interpreted by the EU's Court of Justice. So, even if national law does not class it as such, it is an old age benefit according to EU lawand The Netherlands is required to pay the allowance to recipients of a Dutch statutory old-age pension who live in another EU Member State, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland.

The national law in question was adopted against advice to the contrary from the Dutch Council of State (Raad van State) which cautioned that the approach chosen by The Netherlands was not in line with its obligations under EU law. The Commission also advised the Dutch Government early on in the legislative process that the proposed national law would be incompatible with EU law. In the meantime, national courts have also considered the discriminatory conditions for entitlement to the allowance as contrary to EU law.

The Commission requested The Netherlands to end discriminating against pensioners living abroad in May 2012 (see IP/12/526) but no measures to end the discrimination have been notified to the Commission.


Icelanders question their lauded economic recovery - by Alistrair Scrutton

Iceland’s biggest IT company CCP is what the island needs to leave its economic crisis behind. It is global, growing and employs hundreds but its tale is also one of frustration that echoes concerns about the country’s future.

For CEO Hilmar Petursson, Iceland’s lauded recovery model that included a sharp currency fall coupled with capital controls may have pulled a $13-billion (U.S.) economy back from the brink after a 2008 bank crash. But it is now a drag on firms like his.

“The economic remedy has now become part of the problem ... We are not building the company as fast as we could from a global perspective,” said Petursson, seated at his office in a former fishing processing plant littered with vampire books and a huge games console.

Iceland is growing at 2 per cent, faster than much of Europe. But Petursson’s comments underscore worries about the recovery’s sustainability in a straightjacket of capital controls – coupled with questions over having a currency that one politician compared to the Disneyland dollar.

Growth has been downgraded this year from 3 per cent to 2 per cent. Inflation is stubbornly high and the central bank has been forced to step up intervention in the currency market to prop up a weakening crown.
Many expected Iceland’s recovery to be stronger given the way smaller economies can bounce from deep recessions. The International Monetary Fund had originally forecast annual growth of around 4.5 per cent from 2011-2013. It now is under half that.

“Recovery? We’re on the road to nowhere,” said Vilhjalmur Egilsson, head of the Confederation of Icelandic Employers.

Read more: Icelanders question their lauded economic recovery - The Globe and Mail

Italian Elections: Berlusconi flexes media muscle in final tax offensive

With Italy's general election just days away, Silvio Berlusconi is using his unrivalled media reach to focus the political debate on a single issue: his promise to repeal an unpopular property tax introduced by Mario Monti's technocratic government.

Berlusconi's move sparked outrage among his rivals, with Monti warning him against “trying to buy the people's vote with the state's money”.

Antonio Ingroia, a former anti-mafia magistrate and leader of the left-wing Civic Revolution party, said Berlusconi had committed a crime and should be prosecuted.

As for Bersani, he likened the Cavaliere to a modern Achille Lauro, the notoriously corrupt mayor of Naples in the 1950s who bought votes with food and shoes  -- “albeit a stingier one," Bersani said, "because at least Lauro gave the people some pasta”.
Read more:: Berlusconi flexes media muscle in final tax offensive - ITALY - FRANCE 24

EU's Middle East envoy Andreas Reinicke says Middle East caught up in strategic reorientation

The EU's Middle East envoy Andreas Reinicke believes Egypt will continue to play a constructive role in the region in the future. He also urges Israel's new government to agree to a two-state peace solution.

Mideast caught up in strategic reorientation | Transatlantic Voices | DW.DE | 21.02.2013

Russia Clamps Down On Politicians Investing Illegally Overseas: Wave of Resignations Foreseen in Duma - by Yekaterina Kravtsova

The resignation of senior United Russia lawmaker Vladimir Pekhtin following accusations from opposition leader Alexei Navalny that he owned undeclared property in the U.S. triggered speculation that more lawmakers would quit their seats, throwing the ruling party into crisis.

Pundits said Thursday that with lawmakers facing an increasing barrage of incriminating evidence from opposition activists, the Kremlin would try to clean up United Russia — before reputational damage could affect the country's top leadership.

On Friday the Duma will consider a resignation claim from United Russia Deputy Anatoly Lomakin, who announced his decision to leave the Duma a few hours after Pekhtin's speech. Lomakin may become the fourth United Russia deputy to recently quit the Duma after Pekhtin, Vasily Tolstopytov, who quit Tuesday, and Alexei Knyshov, who left in October.

Read more: Wave of Resignations Foreseen in Duma | News | The Moscow Times

Stock Markets: U.S. stocks drop after selloff in Europe

European stocks were sharply lower a day after U.S. stocks sustained some of their steepest declines this year. A monthly survey of European executives showed that business activity in the European Union slowed in February, a strong signal that a downturn that began last year will continue into 2013.

Stock indexes in France, England and Germany finished the day down more than 1.5%.

Signaling that the U.S. labor market remains in slow recovery mode, the government said more people applied for unemployment benefits last week.

In the US Stocks continued a two-day slide Thursday on weak economic data and concern about the Federal Reserve's resolve to keep juicing the market.

The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard and Poor's 500 and the Nasdaq composite indexes down at least 0.4% in afternoon trading.

Read more: U.S. stocks drop after selloff in Europe


Fishing Industry: Europe's Rift on Overfishing and Subsidies - by David Jolly

Two weeks ago, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to require that the 27-nation bloc’s fisheries be managed on a sustainable basis within a few years.

That vote, the first step toward overhauling Europe’s Common Fisheries Policy, was hailed by conservationists as a major victory. It was made possible by the Lisbon Treaty, an agreement that put the Parliament on an equal footing with the European Fisheries Council – a body made up of ministers from member nations – in setting policy.

This week the Parliament began to debate the second half of the so-called Common Fisheries Policy reform, addressing the thorny question of how to ensure that the subsidies that Europe pays out to the fishing industry don’t wind up encouraging the same practices that it wants to end.

Read more: Europe's Rift on Overfishing and Subsidies -

US Financial Cliff - nine more days: Pentagon notifies civilian employees of impending furloughs barring budget deal - Ernesto Londoño

The Defense Department officially notified its 800,000 civilian employees on Wednesday that they are likely to be placed on periods of unpaid leave, and Secretary of State John F. Kerry warned against “retreating” from global diplomacy, as the Obama administration scrambled to deal with congressionally mandated budget cuts set to kick in next week.

“There is no mistaking that the rigid nature of the cuts forced upon this department, and their scale, will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force,” Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta said to employees in a memo issued Wednesday.

Kerry, in a speech at the University of Virginia, separately made the case for retaining or expanding the State Department’s budget, arguing that the costs of pulling back from the world would be huge. “Deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying troops tomorrow,” he said to applause in his first address outside the department as secretary of state.

The Pentagon, faced with $46 billion in cuts, is required to notify Congress at least 45 days before furloughing employees, and officials told lawmakers Wednesday that the move is likely. Panetta said in his memo to the Pentagon’s workforce that affected employees would be notified of the terms of their leave at least 30 days before their furloughs begin. The Pentagon’s tentative plan is to put civilian employees on leave one day per week for 22 weeks.

Read more: Pentagon notifies civilian employees of impending furloughs barring budget deal - The Washington Post

Privacy Laws: New European project aimed at helping data protection authorities (DPAs) around the world

A consortium of four partners from Belgium, the UK, Spain and Poland has initiated a new European project aimed at helping data protection authorities (DPAs) around the world to improve the enforcement of privacy laws.

The two-year research project, called PHAEDRA, started in January 2013 and is co-funded by the European Union under its Fundamental Rights and Citizenship programme. PHAEDRA is the acronym for “Improving Practical and Helpful cooperAtion bEtween Data PRotection Authorities”. The four partners include Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), Trilateral Research & Consulting (UK), Universitat Jaume I (Spain) and the Inspector General for Personal Data Protection (GIODO), the Polish data protection authority.

“In the spirit of the ombudsman idea, Member States of the EU have established data protection authorities, who operate de facto privacy help desks that support citizens confronted with privacy and data protection problems, be it spam, identity theft or black lists stored in third countries without data protection. These data protection authorities became a recognisable feature of Europe’s Information Society helping, on a no-cost basis, citizens, companies and state institutions with legal advice or using their administrative and police powers to fight data protection abuses,” says Prof. Paul De Hert, the PHAEDRA project co-ordinator from VUB.

“Every individual today is a battle ground,” says David Wright, Managing Partner of Trilateral Research. “Governments, companies, hackers and other evil-doers are trying to strip away citizens’ privacy. Our principal, poorly-armed defenders are data protection authorities and privacy commissioners.”

Recent rapid development of information and communications technologies have resulted in the increase of cross-border flows of personal data and, in parallel, in elevating privacy and data protection risks. This requires an adequate response to tackle privacy and data protection breaches of a cross-border nature, and hence calls for co-operation amongst DPAs. Such a need was observed as early as the 2000s, and although some efforts have been undertaken, it still remains one of the weakest links in privacy and data protection governance. “In a globalised Internet world, enforcement co-operation among DPAs is vital to ensure the real protection of personal data,” says Artemi Rallo, former director of the Agencia Española de Protección de Datos and professor at Universitat Jaume I.

However, many DPAs, when it comes to international co-operation, face legal and institutional constraints as well as human and budgetary shortages. Looking only at the European context, the Article 29 Working Party, which brings together DPAs from all 27 EU Member States, in one of its 2011 “advises” has identified a number of obstacles and concluded that there is a need to develop rules on co-operation “in a more detailed and specific way” and to “provide clarity on the extent to which information can be shared between DPAs”, among others.

“Even the best-equipped data protection authorities cannot meet all of the demands on their time,” adds Prof Rallo. “To make matters worse, several DPAs have sometimes investigated the same issue, as was the case with Google Street View.” Recently, however, DPAs have been trying to avoid a duplication of effort, so that one DPA investigates an issue and shares the results with his fellow regulators. Such was the case when CNIL, the French data protection authority, investigated on behalf of the Art. 29 Working Party Google’s combining and integrating its privacy policies across different services.

The European Commission has recognised the need for improved co-operation between DPAs. While the proposal for the General Data Protection Regulation strengthens the mechanisms for co-operation between European DPAs, its Article 45 is specifically focused on international co-operation. It says the Commission and DPAs shall “develop effective co-operation mechanisms to facilitate the enforcement of legislation for the protection of personal data” and to “provide international mutual assistance in the enforcement of legislation”.

“Worldwide flows of personal data and corresponding privacy and data protection risks require an adequate global response in order to effectively protect privacy of European citizens. Therefore, European DPAs should not only focus on EU Member States, but also collaborate with countries outside the EU to improve enforcement of data protection legislation against multinational data controllers and others who violate data protection rights,” says Dr. Wojciech Wiewiórowski, Inspector General for Personal Data Protection.

The first major initiative of the PHAEDRA project has been to send a questionnaire to DPAs and privacy commissioners around the world aimed at understanding their perceived needs for improved co-operation and co-ordination and whether their empowering legislation encourages or constrains co-operation. Second, the consortium will review the legislation establishing DPAs to identify whether there are provisions that act as barriers or that inhibit international co-operation and co-ordination and what measures could be taken to reduce such barriers. Third, the PHAEDRA consortium will contact DPAs to determine how the project could reinforce their efforts. The project will conclude with a set of recommendations. The consortium intends to organise three workshops for discussion of co-ordination efforts.

The PHAEDRA project follows several other international initiatives aimed at improving co-operation and co-ordination between DPAs. In 2007, the OECD adopted a Recommendation on Cross-border Co-operation in the Enforcement of Laws Protecting Privacy. The 29th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC) adopted a “Resolution on International Co-operation” at its meeting in Montreal in 2007. In 2010, 11 privacy enforcement authorities launched the Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN) with a mission to “promote and support cooperation in cross-border enforcement of laws protecting privacy”, primarily by exchanging information between DPAs. The 33rd ICDPPC, held in Mexico City in 2011, adopted an even more detailed Resolution, encouraging more effective co-ordination of cross-border investigation and enforcement. The Article 29 Working Party also has on its agenda enhancing enforcement and promoting international co-operation between privacy authorities.

Ethanol: After US dumps ethanol on European markets EU hits back with ethanol tariff

U.S. ethanol producers on Tuesday criticized the European Union for imposing a five-year tariff that will drive up the price of American ethanol sold in Europe by about 10 percent, or 25 cents per gallon.

The duty, imposed after an investigation of alleged dumping, will benefit German, French, British and other E.U. renewable energy producers but threatens to raise transatlantic trade tensions. “That shuts us out of the market — we are no longer the lowest-cost fuel on the planet,” Ed Hubbard, general counsel of the U.S. trade group, the Renewable Fuels Association, said in an interview.

The duty of 62.30 euros ($83.20) a metric ton aims to punish U.S. exporters of ethanol for allegedly selling it in Europe below cost, a practice known as dumping.

Read more: E.U. ethanol tariff hits home |

Emissions Trade in E.U. Is Sputtering - by Stanley Reed

President Barack Obama is trying to persuade the United States to adopt a cap-and-trade system to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But the European Union’s Emissions Trading System — the world’s flagship effort — is sputtering. European carbon permits, which traded at about €30 per ton a few years ago, are now hovering at about €5 per ton.

The Union set up the E.T.S. in 2005 to send a clear signal to electric utilities and other polluters that over time they needed to switch to cleaner energy sources and adopt innovative anti-pollution technology. But current prices, the equivalent of less than $7 a ton, are too low to encourage much of anything.

“The European Union’s energy and climate policy is in disarray and risks losing credibility,” said Kash Burchett, an analyst at IHS, an energy consulting firm in London.

Read more: Emissions Trade in E.U. Is Sputtering -


EU-Digest Poll On Human Rights Policies shows 71% believe these are Politically and Economically motivated

A recent EU-Digest poll shows 71% of the respondents believe human rights policies are politically and economically motivated and only 5% believe they are fairly enforced,

This month EU-Digest poll focuses on cyber espionage.


Aircraft Industry: Airbus drop plans to use lithium-ion batteries in A350 following Boeing Dreamliner problems

Airbus A359
Airbus says it has abandoned its plans to use lithium-ion batteries for its new A350 airplanes due to the uncertainty surrounding the technology following the grounding of Boeing's 787, the company said.

The European aerospace group said Thursday it would revert to conventional nickel-cadmium batteries for the A350. The plane is a wide-body long-range jet rival to the 787 and is expected to make its first flight around the middle of the year.

Airbus says it does not expect the battery switch to delay the A350's schedule.

Lithium batteries are lighter and can store more energy than other types of batteries of an equivalent size, and manufacturers view them as an important way to save on fuel costs. But the batteries are also more likely to short circuit and start a fire than other batteries if they are damaged, if there is a manufacturing flaw or if they are exposed to excessive heat.

Airbus noted the A350 uses batteries in a different setup than the 787, making it unlikely that it would face the same problems. Its A350 flight-test program would still go forward with lithium-ion batteries.
But because the causes of the problems with the 787 batteries remain unclear, Airbus decided to make the switch "to optimize program certainty," Greczyn said. Airbus is a unit of Netherlands-based EADS NV.


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Eurofighter - Advanced European fighter jets to have UAE parts

Eurofighters on patrol
The advanced, multi-purpose fighter, developed by a European consortium of EADS, Alenia Aeronautica and BAE Systems, will be incorporating a major structural component developed by UAE company Tawazun Precision Industries (TPI).

The development was announced by Enzo Casolini, the chief executive of the Eurofighter holding company, GmbH.

Mark Parkinson, the business development manager for combat air military and information at BAE Systems, said the component is a pure aluminium V-frame used at the rear of the aircraft, near the engine.

Read more: Advanced fighter jets to have UAE parts - The National

Armenian President Promises Security after election victory

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan promised  Tuesday to make the country secure and stable after cruising to victory in an election that international vote monitors said lacked real competition.

But Sargsyan, 58, faces a challenge in his second five-year term to prevent tensions increasing with Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh that could lead to a new war in the South Caucasus, where pipelines carry Caspian oil and gas to Europe.

Preliminary results showed Sargsyan won 58.6 percent of the votes cast in Monday's election, enough to avoid a second-round run-off. His closest rival, U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian, trailed on nearly 37 percent.

International observers said the election was an improvement on last year's, in which 10 people were killed. But "the limited field of candidates meant that the election was not genuinely competitive," representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement.

Read more: Armenian President Promises Security | News | The Moscow Times

Cyber Crime: Has China become a major global cyber-crime threat ?

Cyber Crime
Google chairman Eric Schmidt has labelled China a menace to the internet, complicit in the use of cyber-crime as part of efforts to undermine its corporate and political opponents.

The claims are made in his upcoming book, The New Digital Age, extracts of which have been published by The Wall Street Journal. Schmidt brands China "the world's most active and enthusiastic filterer of information", and the "the most sophisticated and prolific" hacker of foreign organizations.

China exploits the internet for the benefit of its government and organizations. "The disparity between American and Chinese firms and their tactics will put both the government and the companies of the United States at a distinct disadvantage,"  says Eric Schmidt

Read more: Google's Eric Schmidt warns of China cyber-crime threat - 04 Feb 2013 - Computing News

Auto Industry - Alternative Energy: Electric-Vehicle's slowly gaining ground

Renault-Nisan Leaf Electric Car
 "The electric car is not dead," general motors North America president Mark Reuss insisted at the recent Automotive News World Congress in Detroit. He's right: automakers are introducing more battery-powered vehicles than ever before, a hopeful sign for this promising green technology. Fiat, Cadillac, Ford and Honda are all launching new electric models this year. Sales of the two mainstream plug-ins already on the market are up: GM's Chevy Volt sales tripled in 2012 over the year before, while the Nissan Leaf's rose modestly, by 1.5%.

The major shortcoming with EVs at present is the energy required to manufacture their enormous batteries. Some skeptics have contended that if you factor battery production into an electric car's environmental footprint, the vehicles really aren't that much greener than today's Corollas. But the Lantern finds studies such as this one too academic, since they assume that all of an electric car's "fuel" comes from coal; even in the heart of West Virginia, only about 73 percent of electricity is coal-generated. Also worth noting: a recent Department of Energy study pointing out that there's plenty of surplus electricity that goes unused at night, when people would presumably be recharging their cars.

Nissan's Leaf electric car has become the highest-selling electric car of all time.

The company has now sold more than 50,000 examples of the Leaf, sold across Japan, Europe and the U.S.
Since the car went on sale in 2010, those 50,000 Leaf owners have racked up over 161 million miles. In reality, that figure is probably even higher--Nissan can only monitor those Leafs equipped with the Carwings telemetry system, and not every owner has registered.

Despite some issues with battery degredation in hotter areas of Arizona and elsewhere, Nissan says the Leaf has the company's highest customer satisfation rating, beating all its other models. Over 95 percent of Leaf drivers are satisfied with their cars.

That also echoes findings with the Chevy Volt, which has topped several customer satisfacation surveys in its limited time on sale. It seems that electric vehicles are comfortably matching the expectations of owners.