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5/23/17

EU: Brussels hits back against Trump on trade deficit – by Hans von der Burchard

Brussels has rejected criticism of the EU’s €134 billion trade surplus with the U.S. by stressing Europe is a “very open market” that has only imported less than the U.S. in recent years because its recovery from the financial crisis has been slower.

“The EU combines a surplus with the U.S. with a generally very open market in goods, services, and procurement,” the EU ambassador to Washington David O’Sullivan wrote Wednesday in a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

“It is important to place trade deficits in the longer context of business cycles,” the letter said.

“One of the main drivers of the increased EU-U.S. imbalance in goods trade over the last years is that the U.S. economy has rebounded relatively quickly and robustly from the ‘great recession’ of 2009, while the EU is experiencing a more protracted period of necessary fiscal adjustment and subdued growth,” it added.

Read more: Brussels hits back against Trump on trade deficit – POLITICO

5/22/17

Terrorism: CNN guest immediately links Manchester explosion to "the two plus million refugees that have come into Europe"

ERIN BURNETT: When you look at something like this happening in the UK -- and there are still so many details we don't know, right? These are just a few eyewitness accounts that we are putting together from people who are very much in shock, but you heard that woman say, "20 or 30 bodies," she saw a lot of blood. We just don't know at this point, but what we're hearing is horrific.

DAN SENOR: Right, so -- a human catastrophe of it, just in its raw form that we're hearing about and seeing images of makes it hard to analyze these things, we hope it was not a terrorist attack. We hope something exploded and people panic, god forbid -- But it tells you a lot about the climate in which we are in today. That something like this happens in Europe.

 10,15, 20 years ago, our minds wouldn't have immediately gone to a terrorist attack. Between France, and Brussels, and all these terrorist -- UK, these terrorist attacks have been going on around the region, and this constant focus in political environments over the last several years on the two plus million refugees that have come into Europe, via Germany, and now many of whom have spread throughout Europe, and established or inserted themselves into communities that create infrastructure for terror.

Whether this is that or not, that is where people's minds go, and as Spider [Marks] said earlier, Teresa May has got an election coming up this week, she was the Home Secretary under Prime Minister Cameron. She was the equivalent of the Secretary of Homeland Security. She was regarded in the UK as having this strong homeland security credentials.

Note EU-Digest:  Not a sole in the US Government and even in many European countries is willing to openly admit that the refugee problem in Europe, and  the terrorist activities there are a direct result of the totally failed US foreign policy and  military involvement in the Middle East {Iraq, Syria and Libya)  and there still is no end in sight. The EU needs to have the courage to get out of this totally destructive alignment with the US,  unless they change their policies. Given the election of Trump as US President this is very unlikely.

Read more: CNN guest immediately links Manchester explosion to "the two plus million refugees that have come into Europe"

Europe Should Stand Firm Against Torture at NATO Summit with Trump- by Kartik Raj

Human Rights Watch notes that European leaders will sit down with  President Donald Trump at the NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday. [5/25] High on the agenda will be how the new  US administration and its European partners cooperate on counterterrorism. That conversation should include  how to ensure that torture  has no place in counterterrorism efforts.

The NATO treaty played a little-known role in the dark history of post-9/11 US-Europe counterterrorism cooperation that permitted CIA secret detention and torture on European soil.

The day after the attacks of 11 September 2001, the Bush administration invoked the “collective self-defence” clause in Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. Within a month, Europe’s leaders had agreed to give the US military and intelligence agencies “blanket overflight clearance” and unlimited use of airports for refueling.

A Swiss senator who later investigated the programme for the Council of Europe was never allowed to see that agreement, but he concluded that Europe’s approach had been “permissive” and that the arrangement  facilitated CIA covert operations.

Why bring all this up now? We are now in a world in which European leaders have to talk about a shared approach to counterterrorism policy with a US president who promised during his election campaign to bring back “waterboarding” and “a helluva lot worse.”

The European Court of Human Rights has found in a series of cases—involving Macedonia, Italy and Poland—that European intelligence agents enabled the CIA to abduct national security suspects from Europe, and bundle them onto aircraft to be tortured elsewhere, or to fly detainees captured elsewhere to secret detention centres set up in Europe where they were subjected to terrible, prohibited, abuse. Cases against Romania and Lithuania are still open before the court. And two UN Committees have condemned Sweden for its role in the rendition of two Egyptian asylum-seekers in 2001.

The European governments involved have done little or nothing to hold those responsible to account.

Italy has gone furthest, convicting Italian and US agents, the latter in absentia, for  kidnapping a man who was sent to Egypt and tortured, but some of those deemed criminally responsible have since received a presidential pardon. Every other criminal investigation in Europe into European complicity – in Poland, Lithuania and the UK – is stalled or has been shelved.

The UK government has shelved the work of a judicial inquiry into allegations of complicity in rendition and torture, and instead handed over the task to a parliamentary committee that lacks necessary independence.

Successive investigations into European complicity by the Council of Europe and European Parliament faced obstruction from most of the governments under investigation. None of the bilateral deals between the US and each individual European state involved in these abuses has ever seen the light of day. We still don’t know who in Europe authorised them.

Days after Trump’s  inauguration, newspapers published a leaked draft Executive Order suggesting that the new US president was considering reopening the CIA’s high value detainee programme.  A White House spokesman said that the draft order was “not a White House document.”

Those plans – thankfully – seem to be on the back burner. But the risk of a return to torture lingers, particularly if a new attack took place and altered the president’s thinking.

Some European leaders have already signalled that if the US resumes abusive security practices it would hurt relations. The German defence minister has stated clearly that there is “no room for torture” in US-German relations. UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said that the UK’s ability to cooperate on intelligence matters with a state that practised torture would be limited. Donald Tusk, EU Council president, listed “worrying declarations by the new American administration” as one of the key external threats to the EU.

It is vital  for European leaders continue to make clear to the Trump administration that there would be negative consequences  if Washington resumed secret detention, rendition and torture. Even if the goal of such a programme is to outsource torture to repressive regimes elsewhere and never touch down at a European airport, Europe’s leaders should be no less vociferous in their objection to such illegality.

NATO’s founding charter says that its members are “determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”

As they begin their relationship with a new US administration, European states should be clear that the shared values of the alliance preclude intelligence and security cooperation that would lead to renewed torture and secret detention. And they should come clean about their own role in CIA torture in the past.

Note EU-Digest: before we start accusing other countries about their poor Human Rights behavior it might be worthwhile to look how well we in the West are doing ourselves when it  comes to Human Rights. After all “What's good for the goose should also be good for the gander.”

EU-Digest

EU Refugee Relocation Policies: European Parliament denounces Member States' failure to relocate refugees | Greens/EFA

The European Parliament has today supported with a very strong majority a resolution on the relocation of refugees in the EU. It calls for Member States to implement their decision of September 2015 to relocate 160,000 refugees in the EU. Ska Keller, co-president of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament and initiator of the parliamentary resolution, comments:

"It is a strong signal that a large majority of the European Parliament has denounced the failure of the Member States to relocate refugees. Member States must finally implement the relocation of 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy. Those Member States that continue to boycott relocation cannot be allowed to get away with their refusal to show solidarity. The Commission must initiate infringement procedures against them. It is outrageous that so far only 11% of the 160,000 refugees have been relocated.

"Sealing-off European borders against refugees and migrants is not a solution. If we want to avoid terribly overcrowded refugee camps and unsustainable conditions for those seeking protection in the EU's southern frontiers, we need solidarity between Member States. Greece and Italy cannot be expected to take care of asylum seekers on their own."

EU-Digest

EU Gun Control: The EU is miles ahead of many other countries when it comes to gun control

Firearms are dangerous and can kill you
The European Union has agreed to ban sales of the most dangerous semi-automatic firearms, and to make it much harder to legally buy other weapons in the EU.

People across the EU will now have to go through medical checks before getting a license to buy firearms. Online sales will also be limited. 

Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission, called the agreement a "milestone in gun control in the EU."

 "We have strengthened security in Europe without restricting citizens' freedom," said Anna Maria Corazza Bildt MEP, EPP Group negotiator on the Firearms Directive, while attending the LEX signing ceremony of the Firearms Directive in the European Parliament.

In short, the objective of the review of the Firearms Directive is to ensure that legally-owned firearms do not end up in the wrong hands. The revised directive closes dangerous loopholes, notably by improving common standards for deactivation, safe storage, increased traceability and better cooperation between national police forces.

"I want to reassure hunters and sport shooters throughout the union that they can continue to enjoy their activities. We are filling gaps in inadequate systems while preserving existing effective firearms legislation," said Corazza Bildt.

Member States now have 15 months to transpose the revised directive into national law.

"We now call on the Member States to transpose the directive without adding constraints and to keep the good balance found between security and citizens' freedom," the Swedish MEP, First Vice-Chair of the Internal Market Committee, concluded.

EU-Digest

EU: MEPs welcome unity on Brexit and call for reform of the EU

MEPs welcomed the unity of the 27 Member States and the EU institutions with regard to Brexit and also called for a reform of the EU to benefit all its citizens.

The President of the European Council Donald Tusk presented to MEPs the Guidelines for Brexit negotiations agreed by the Member States at the summit on 29 April. He welcomed the alignment with the ‘red lines’ set by the European Parliament. The detailed negotiating mandate will be presented for adoption at a  Council meeting on 22nd May, pointed out the President of the Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.

In line with negotiator Michel Barnier, most MEPs emphasised the unity between the EU institutions and the 27 Member States, who are determined to act together to reach a balanced agreement with the United Kingdom.

The debated focused on the basis for future negotiations, as recalled by Michel Barnier:

  • no negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom can take place before “tangible progress” on the exit agreement is made,
  • guaranteeing the rights of European citizens affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU,
  • the Northern Ireland peace process must be upheld (including the absence of physical border between Ireland and Northern Ireland),
  • the United Kingdom must respect all the financial commitments made as a Member State.
     
    MEPs underlined the importance of unity and trust so that, in parallel to negotiations being carried out for an ‘orderly withdrawal’ of the UK, the reform of the Union can take place to rapidly respond to citizens’ concerns and make the benefits of European integration much more visible. 

5/21/17

Facebook: The EU is right to take on Facebook, but mere fines don’t protect us from tech giants - by Julia Powles

The indomitable empire of Facebook is being assailed by a volley of arrows from Europe. The latest struck on Thursday: a  Euro 110m fine from the European commission for providing misleading information in 2014 when the commission was doing a merger review on Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp.

In August 2014, Facebook said it was unable to reliably match Facebook and WhatsApp user accounts. But in August 2016, it started doing just that. This fine recognises that Facebook lied about its technical capacities in 2014, a point the company seems to have accepted. The acquisition also allowed it to get a further identifier on its users: their phone number. Extremely valuable as today your phone number is your primary key.

Politicians such as Theresa May seem incapable of seeing the irony of Facebook being fined for lying, just as she accelerates demands to deputise Facebook as an arbiter of truth by enlisting it in the fight against child abuse, terrorism, hate speech, copyright infringement and other ills.

Nowhere in these proposals is there any plan for how effectively to oversee and monitor Facebook in this function or to pull it back if it goes too far.

The maddening reality is that lies, whether by or facilitated by Facebook, have proved to have no impact on the company’s bottom line.

The commission should have seen the permeability of Facebook and WhatsApp accounts coming and adopted a more proactive stance, at the very least by insisting on the firewalling of WhatsApp user data from Facebook. Instead, a spate of privacy and consumer protection cases is now running across Europe, trying to retrofit solutions at the national level.

Read more: The EU is right to take on Facebook, but mere fines don’t protect us from tech giants | Julia Powles | Opinion | The Guardian

Germany: NATO chief in talks with Germany, Turkey over air base spat

The chief of NATO says he's in touch with both Germany and Turkey regarding their latest dispute over visiting rights to a Turkish air base where German soldiers are stationed.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told German daily newspaper Bild on Sunday he's focused on finding a solution and won't speculate over hypothetical questions, including a possible withdrawal of German troops from the Incirlik air base.

The German government said last week it was considering withdrawing the soldiers from Turkey.

Turkey recently blocked a request for German lawmakers to visit their country's 270 soldiers at the Incirlik air base. The moved raised the possibility that Germany might relocate planes supporting a multi-national campaign against the Islamic State group.

Stoltenberg says he regrets the quarrel between the two NATO partners.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has announced that an airbase in Jordan shows potential as a replacement for Turkey's Incirlik base.

EU-Digest

Migrant Crises: Italy and France call for more integrated EU action on migrants

France's new President Emmanuel Macron called on Sunday for deeper European Union integration to tackle the migration crisis, saying bloc members had not paid enough heed to Italy's warnings about the growing burden.

Ahead of a working dinner with visiting Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, he repeated his wish to work quickly within the EU to strengthen rules to protect workers against social dumping and improve regulations on public procurement.

In a nod to Italy, which has received more than 45,000 people arriving by boat from North Africa so far this year alone, he said the EU also had to better share the burden of the high migration flows across the Mediterranean in recent years.

The EU has seen some 1.6 million refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Africa and beyond reach its shores in 2014-2016. Most first arrived in flimsy boats in Greece but now head mainly to Italy. Many have died at sea.

Read  more: Italy and France call for more integrated EU action on migrants | Reuters

Turkey: Erdogan-Trump DC meeting:“The mountain gave birth to a mouse” - Turkish proverb

Mission Impossible
In the aftermath of the Trump-Erdogan meeting at the White House, the conclusion certainly can be: that the mountain didn’t even give birth to a mouse. It didn’t give birth to anything.

As far as Heads of States visits go during the short Trump Administration, the Erdogan - Trump meeting has now overtaken the disastrous Merkel-Trump meeting, when it comes to calculating a failure rate.

Erdogan’s White House meeting with Trump was trumpeted as a “turning point” in Turkey’s relations with the United States. There are three major issues to assess the success of the visit and thereby come to a conclusion of whether it was a turning point:

  • a change of Washington’s position on the YPG;
  • the extradition of Turkey’s public enemy No. 1, Fethullah Gulen, to Turkey; and
  • the release of Reza Zarrab, the pivotal character of Turkey’s corruption case of 2014, which is seen as the biggest potential headache for Erdogan.
None of these objectives were met.

The 22-minute “turning point” summit in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, was followed by a joint press conference that lasted about the same length, with Trump speaking less than five minutes and saying nothing significant and Erdogan reading a text that reiterated Turkey’s stand on the thorny issues.

During the joint press conference, both tried to be cordial to each other, but they were unable to conceal the mundane atmosphere dominating the Roosevelt Room, where the joint press conference was held. While Erdogan was talking, Trump’s body language gave the impression that he was somewhere other than next to his Turkish counterpart.

Mr. Erdogan, however, can claim one feather on his cap, given that Trump did not retract his earlier endorsement of the Turkish referendum, making Turkey manifestly less liberal; the speed with which it was offered; the way it differs from the stated views of key American allies, or the lack of any expression of concern about the process.

Nobody, unfortunately, from the American media was really interested in the divergences between Turkey and the United States, and they behaved as if the president of Turkey was not even in the room.

Interestingly sideline, during the press conference, the discrepancy in Erdogan’s Turkish and the English translation that Trump heard was noted and circulated on social media within an hour. That means what Trump heard in English was different in meaning or what Erdogan intended to mean.

The joint press conference was followed by a working lunch where the delegations took part. After the lunch, Erdogan’s visit — which was advertised by his team as “a turning point” in Turkish-American relations — ended - a total failure and unprecedented in this regard.

The worst part of the Erdogan visit probably came when Kurdish-American activists were holding a demonstration at the Turkish ambassador’s residence protesting Erdogan’s visit to Washington, and it turned into a battleground, where Erdogan’s bodyguards and his supporters violently attacked the demonstrators. Nine people were wounded, and American police had difficulty taking control of the situation.

Halil Mutlu, a cousin of Erdogan’s, and a board member of the Turkish American Steering Committee (TASC), was spotted on the sidelines of the fray. At one point he was seen leading a pro-Erdogan chant aimed at the Turkish government critics.

On this visit to the US Erdogan opted to use his own armored official Mercedes car brought from Turkey by a Turkish military cargo airplane. He also took along a large number of bodyguards, who as they have done on many other occasions around the world, took unauthorized provocative action on foreign soil, against peaceful local demonstrators.

Turkish autocratic President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan enjoys the trappings and lifestyle of an aspiring dictator. He lives in a lavish official residence about 30 x the size of the White House, called the White Palace he had built on the outskirts of Ankara, the capital, at the expense of his ever generous taxpayers and a dwindling Turkish economy.

Following Mr. Erdogan's unsuccessful trip to the US,  it seems that one of the most surprising revelations by outside observers was the fact that little or no negative reactions came from the local US Turkish Diaspora during the visit.. Not a word about the deplorable undemocratic political situation in Turkey, regardless of the fact that some 87% of the Turks living in the US voted no in the latest Turkish referendum.

Not even the ATAA, representing over 60 local chapters and 500,000 Turkish Americans throughout the United States used the occasion of the Erdogan visit to voice their protest against the present undemocratic developments in Turkey or at least tried to get their members motivated to take some action.

As one longtime US citizen of Turkish descent, attending a cultural meeting organized by the Florida Turkish American Association in Florida remarked, "we Turks like to talk a lot, but when it comes to taking political action, fear for reprisals seems to overtake reality.

EU-Digest 

Saudi Arabia - US relations: 110 Billion dollar arms deal

The US Secretary of State proudly stated the huge multi-billion dollar arms sales agreements will help Saudi Arabia deal with 'malign Iranian influence and create thousands of new jobs in the US. 

Unfortunately, it will also mean hundreds of thousands of  people killed by these weapons.

The question, obviously, which should have been asked in this case: "wouldn't a ban on all weapons sales to the war  ravaged Middle East have been  a far better way to go?: "Maybe less profitable for the US Weapons Industry, but certainly a more moral way of action".

Specially for a country which prides itself to be a "champion for peac".  

5/20/17

Saudi Arabia: Trump's plan to create an Arab NATO with a collection of dictators, tyrants and thugs is bound to fail - by Robert Fisk

"The Savior ? "
Counter Punch reports that Donald Trump set off on Friday to create the fantasy of an Arab Nato. There will be dictators aplenty to greet him in Riyadh, corrupt autocrats and thugs and torturers and head choppers. There will be at least one zombie president – the comatose, undead Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria who neither speaks nor, apparently, hears any more – and, of course, one totally insane president, Donald Trump. The aim, however, is simple: to prepare the Sunni Muslims of the Middle East for war against the Shia Muslims. With help from Israel, of course.

The incubator of terrorism
Even for those used to the insanity of Arab leadership – not to mention those Westerners who have still to grasp that the US President is himself completely off his rocker – the Arab-Muslim (Sunni) summit in Saudi Arabia is almost beyond comprehension. From Pakistan and Jordan and Turkey and Egypt and Morocco and 42 other minareted capitals, they are to come so that the effete and ambitious Saudis can lead their Islamic crusade against “terrorism” and Shiism. The fact that most of the Middle East’s “terrorism” – Isis and al-Qaeda, aka the Nusrah Front – have their fountainhead in the very nation to which Trump is traveling, must and will be ignored. Never before in Middle Eastern history has such a “kumidia alakhta” – quite literally “comedy of errors” in Arabic – been staged.

On top of all this, they have to listen to Trump’s ravings on peace and Islamic “extremism”, surely the most preposterous speech to be uttered by a US president since he is going to have to pretend that Iran is extremist – when it is Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Isis clones who are destroying Islam’s reputation throughout the world. All this while he is fostering war.

For Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (henceforth MbS) wants to lead his Sunni tribes – plus Iraq if possible, which is why Shia Prime Minister Abadi has been invited from Baghdad – against the serpent of “terrorist” Shia Iran, the dark (Shia) “terrorist” Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad, the “terrorist” Shia Lebanese Hezbollah and the aggressive “terrorist” Shia Houthis of Yemen. As for the Gulf states’ own Shia minorities and other recalcitrants, well, off with their heads.

Much has been made (rightly) of MbS’s threat to ensure that the battle is “in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia”. But, typically, few bothered to listen to Iran’s ferocious reply to the Saudi threat. It came promptly from the Iranian defence minister, Hossein Dehghan. “We warn them [the Saudis] against doing anything ignorant,” he said, “but if they do something ignorant, we will leave nowhere untouched apart from Mecca and Medina.” In other words, it’s time to start building air raid shelters in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dhahran, Aramco headquarters and all those other locations dear to American hearts.

 Indeed, it’s difficult not to recall an almost identical Sunni hubris – almost four decades ago – to that of MbS today. The latter boasts of his country’s wealth and his intention to diversify, enrich and broaden its economic base. In 1980, Saddam was determined to do the same. He used Iraq’s oil wealth to cover the country in super-highways, modern technology, state-of-the-art healthcare and hospitals and modern communications. Then he kicked off his “lightning war” with Iran.

It impoverished his oil-rich nation, humiliated him in the eyes of his fellow Arabs – who had to cough up the cash for his disastrous eight-year adventure – led to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, sanctions and the ultimate Anglo-US invasion of 2003 and, for Saddam, the hangman’s noose.

Yet this leaves out the Syrian dimension. Sharmine Narwani, a former senior associate of St Antony’s College – and an antidote for all those sickened by the mountebank think-tank “experts” of Washington – pointed out this week that US support for Kurdish forces fighting under the dishonest label of “Syrian Democratic Forces” are, by advancing on Raqqa, helping to cut Syria off from Iraq. And that Kurdish forces are now reported as “retaking” Christian or Muslim Arab towns in the Nineveh province of Iraq, which were never Kurdish in the first place.

Kurds now regard Qamishleh, and Hassakeh province in Syria as part of “Kurdistan”, although they represent a minority in many of these areas. Thus US support for these Kurdish groups – to the fury of Sultan Erdogan and the few Turkish generals still loyal to him – is helping to both divide Syria and divide Iraq.

This cannot and will not last. Not just because the Kurds are born to be betrayed – and will be betrayed by the Americans even if the present maniac-in-charge is impeached, just as they were betrayed to Saddam in the days of Kissinger – but because Turkey’s importance (with or without its own demented leader) will always outweigh Kurdish claims to statehood. Both are Sunnis, and therefore “safe” allies until one of them – inevitably the Kurds – must be abandoned.

Meanwhile, you can forget justice, civil rights, sickness and death. Cholera has quite a grip on Yemen now, courtesy of the criminal bombing attacks of the Saudis – ably assisted by their American allies long before Trump took over – and scarcely any of the Muslim leaders whom Trump meets in Riyadh do not have torturers at work back home to ensure that some of their citizens wish they had never been born. It will be a relief for the fruitcake president to leave Israel for the Vatican, albeit given only a brief visitation to – and short shrift by what the Catholics believe – is a real peacemaker.

That only leaves one nation out of the loop of this glorious charivari: Russia. But be sure Vladimir Putin comprehends all too well what is going on in Riyadh. He will watch the Arab Nato fall apart. His foreign minister Lavrov understands Syria and Iran better than the feckless Tillerson. And his security officers are deep inside Syria. Besides, if he needs any more intelligence information, he has only to ask Trump.

The BBC reports that In stark contrast to the upbeat statements of Saudi officials concerning US President Donald Trump's visit to the kingdom on 20 May, many Arab Twitter users have taken a more sceptical view of the trip.

At one point on Saturday, though, the term "Trump's daughter" in Arabic was the top-trending topic worldwide on Twitter.

Many have taken to satire, posting images referencing negative comments by Mr Trump about Islam and Muslims. Their reaction comes ahead of his much-anticipated speech at the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh on Sunday.


EU-Digest

5/19/17

The Netherlands: The King of the Netherlands Reveals He Has Been Living a Secret Life for 20 Years - by Jamie Bland


King Willem Alexander could be flying your plane
King Willem-Alexander—aka King of the Netherlands—recently revealed his secret life as a KLM Airlines co-pilot to the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.

"I find flying simply fantastic," he told the newspaper. "You can't take your problems with you off the ground.

You can completely switch off for a while and focus on something else. That, for me, is the most relaxing part of flying."

For the past 21 years the King has secretly taken flight on the commercial planes and while very few have recognized him, he's had no trouble strolling through the airport in his pilot uniform going mostly unnoticed. In fact, unless passengers recognized the royal's voice via telecom, Willem-Alexander managed to keep his hobby and second profession completely under wraps...until now.
 
"The advantage is that I can always say I am speaking on behalf of the captain and crew to welcome them on board, so I don't have to say my name," Willem-Alexander further explained to the paper. "But then, most people don't listen anyway."

So what prompted the sudden reveal? Willem-Alexander is heading to training to fly Boeing 737s—the model of plane that is replacing the current aircrafts used by the airline company.
 
While it has been awhile since the king has been taking orders, he is excited to fly the new planes.

"It also seemed nice to fly to other destinations one day, with more passengers and bigger distances. That was the real motive for training on the 737," said Willem-Alexander.

Even with the new changes and public exposure, the king plans to keep up his hobby of co-piloting twice a month.

EU-Digest
 

EU trade balance in services down for a third consecutive year

According to preliminary data for 2016, the European Union's (EU) exports of services to the rest of the world decreased by 1.4% between 2015 and 2016, from €831.5 billion to €819.8 bn, while imports grew slightly (+0.6%) from €685.7 bn to €689.7 bn. As a consequence, the EU trade surplus in services, which had steadily increased between 2010 and 2013, has decreased for the third consecutive year in 2016 to €130.2 bn.

Read more: EU trade balance in services down for a third consecutive year - Product - Eurostat

Ireland: ESA and DCU partnership to fuel Irish innovation in satellite communications for the Internet of Things (IoT)

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Dublin City University have joined forces to establish a Satcom IoT ‘Maker Space’, which will support the development of innovative Machine-to -Machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies for satellite communications.

Based at DCU Alpha, the University’s Innovation Campus, and supported by Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the initiative will provide opportunities for rapid prototyping and validation of challenging innovative technologies proposed by ESA and DCU, which are targeted at industry, space tech entrepreneurs, academics and the wider Maker movement.

 Potential applications will address challenges faced in everyday life. For example;

    Developing satellite enabled sensors which could aid in search and rescue operations;
    Developing satellite enabled sensors to monitor critical infrastructure;
    Adapting existing radio protocols and standards to integrate terrestrial communications with satellite communications

ESA has awarded a contract to the Maker Space through its ARTES (Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems) Core Competitiveness programme. Published projects will provide opportunities for target stakeholders to address individual design and development challenges. Over an 18 month period, projects will be awarded and implemented by target stakeholders via a competitive process. Maker Space activities will be 100% funded, with typical values of between €5,000 and €20,000 per activity.

Read more: ESA and DCU partnership to fuel Irish innovation in satellite communications for the Internet of Things (IoT) | DCU

Germany: From the Bonn climate talks: Increasing ambition, inside and out. — by Douglas Fischer

Ambition is a recurring point of tension at the United Nations climate talks.

Activists keep pushing it. Scientists have made pretty clear we don't have enough of it. Those of us living a carbon-rich Western lifestyle have built-in pushback against it.

That conflict is how I found myself Tuesday at the back of a room packed with activists and other representatives, listening as Harro van Asselt, senior research fellow at the Stockholm Environmental Institute, called for more inclusion of "non-party" stakeholders in the UN climate talks.

First, a bit of history: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change arose in 1992 from a global concern that something had to be done about climate change.

Just what, exactly, has never been specified – and has consumed 25 years of annual talks. Preparation for the next round of talks this fall is underway right now in Bonn, and as usual those participating are broken into two main groups: "Parties" represent country governments."Observers" capture everybody else, from business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to activists like Greenpeace to university researchers. Observers can send delegates to the talks (I teach, for instance, at Montana State University and have brought 11 student "observers" from my #climateclass here). Such delegates can speak at plenary sessions and, sometimes, participate in negotiations.

But the problem, van Asselt pointed out, is that in the end, when actual agreements are being hammered out, the only people at the table are the parties.

From van Asselt's view, governments tend to be dominated globally by fossil fuel and other entrenched interests, with little incentive to increase ambition. Nobody at the negotiating table, he said, has the inclination to "name and shame" countries into greater commitments.

I confess that, from the back of a room jammed pack with activists, I found the question curious. Civil society, from my view, has a strong presence here. And it often shapes the policies and people making up those governments at the negotiating table.

So I left that room and threaded my way across the cavernous Bonn World Conference Center, weaving past activists and observers, to a room where, by absolute chance, Prof. Samuel Frankhauser was presenting data showing the influence these talks—and the activists—have exerted on governments worldwide.

Frankhauser co-directs of the London School of Economics and Political Science's Grantham Research Institute. His team has tallied the amount of climate legislation worldwide and found 1,200 climate-related laws. The laws are in 164 countries, including 93 of the top 100 emitters.

That's up from 60 laws total just 20 years ago—a "huge amount" of lawmaking, he said. And it stems from the ambition coming out of these climate talks: He can trace 47 pieces of legislation directly to the 2015 Paris Agreement alone.

The sheer amount of lawmaking, he added, acts like a shock absorber to shifting political winds. The No. 1 topic nobody wants to discuss here, for instance, is President Trump's potential to dampen global ambition to cut planet-warming emissions. But as Frankhauser looks at his data, he concludes progress to date on climate will be hard to reverse.

"This is a body of law that is broad. It is big. It is deep. It is there to stay," he said.

Is that enough? Of course not. Frankhauser and many other groups have concluded laws and policies on the books are insufficient to meet promises made in Paris two years ago. 

Read more: From the Bonn climate talks: Increasing ambition, inside and out. — The Daily Climate

Europe’s top court decides member states must have say in EU trade deals, clearing way for court case on CETA

 Comprehensive trade deals between the EU and other countries must be approved by all member states in the EU, judges at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) have ruled.

In a binding Opinion about who has the power to conclude the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, the Court said that portfolio investment and the investor-state dispute settlement provisions in the investment chapter are shared competence between the EU and the Member States. Therefore, the agreement must be concluded jointly by the EU and the Member States.

ClientEarth trade lawyer Laurens Ankersmit said: “The Court’s Opinion reaffirms the critical role of Member States in the ratification process of vast trade agreements such as the EU-Canada trade deal, CETA.

“The Opinion clears the path for Slovenia and Belgium to get CETA legally checked by the ECJ. This is not just important for the rule of law in Europe, but might also put ratification of CETA in peril.”

Today’s EU trade agreements are more extensive and wide-ranging than ever before, going way beyond simply lowering tariffs.

The Opinion did not address the important issue of the legality of the controversial investment courts set up in these agreements, under EU law. The Court made clear that the opinion relates only to the issue of whether the European Union has exclusive competence and not to whether the content of the agreement is compatible with EU law.

    An EU multilateral investment court must be fair and inclusive
    101 law professors say ISDS is incompatible with EU law

Investment rules in trade deals like CETA create special courts that are only available to foreign investors. These courts – known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) and the Investment Court System (ICS) – give those investors a powerful legal tool to attack public interest decision-making.

In a compromise deal last year between the Belgian region of Wallonia and the Belgian federal government over signing CETA, Belgium has committed to request an Opinion from the ECJ on this issue. Slovenia has also committed to making a similar request.

Now that the Court has made it clear that member states must be involved in the ratification of expansive trade deals, Wallonia’s demand to send CETA to the ECJ can no longer be ignored.

Including controversial investment rules in EU trade agreements may be illegal, as it sidelines domestic courts and doesn’t offer the same rights to people. This is a breach of the founding treaties of the EU. ClientEarth analysis shows this is not compatible with EU law.

In 2016, we launched legal proceedings against the Commission for keeping secret official analysis of whether these controversial investor rules are legal.

By clarifying the areas in which member states have powers, the Court’s Opinion gives legal certainty about their involvement in other future trade deals, such as the EU-Canada deal CETA and a possible UK-EU agreement.

Read more: Europe’s top court decides member states must have say in EU trade deals, clearing way for court case on CETA | ClientEarth

EFSA: Food safety – politics and science simply cannot mix - by Martin Banks.

Trying his best to sound non-partisan, the former president pointed out that the waves of refugees coming to Europe could be linked to conflicts caused by food shortages brought on by climate change. Which is why, Obama argues “[We need] better seeds, better storage, crops that grow with less water, crops that grow in harsher climates,” especially since “I let the science determine my attitudes about fFood production and new technologies… It’s okay for us to be cautious about how we approach these new technologies but I don’t think we can be close-minded to it.”

President Obama’s speech comes at a crucial time, as the safety of the food chain has come under the spotlight again in Europe, raising profound questions about the interactions between science, politics and new technologies, interactions that can be so toxic that they actually yield results that are harmful to consumers.

Just look at the wrangling currently unfolding over formaldehyde, a naturally occurring compound commonly used to keep fowl (and humans) from contracting food poisoning. The European Commission is having a hard time re-approving the use of the substance as a feed additive due to strong opposition from activists and certain member states.

The deadlock over formaldehyde shouldn’t have happened: the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that the compound does not cause cancer could be authorized as a feed additive as long as worker protection measures were taken.  In 2014, the agency concluded that “there is no health risk for consumers exposed to the substance through the food chain.”  Its conclusions are in line with the world’s leading scientific bodies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Even so, the conclusions of the widely-respected EU agency have been called into question by, among others, the Health, and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a Brussels-based NGO, which managed to persuade Poland and Spain to take unilateral action and stop putting the substance in chicken feed.

The consequences were quick to follow. Weeks after Poland gave its order, a widespread salmonella outbreak – traced to a Polish farm – led to the deaths of two people, a 5-year-old in Croatia and another person in Hungary. Soon afterwards, EFSA reported that 218 confirmed cases and 252 probable cases of salmonella sourced from Polish farms were recorded between May 2016 and the end of February this year.

The formaldehyde debate shows the serious health repercussions that happen when science and politics clash. Another good example is that of the herbicide glyphosate. Originally marketed under the trade name Roundup, glyphosate accounts for about 25 per cent of the global herbicide market. In the EU, glyphosate-based herbicides are used for weed control for a wide range of crops including cereals, oilseed rape, maize, beans and sugar beet. Several European countries, including Germany, use glyphosate herbicides on almost half of their total crop area.

However, despite the fact that EFSA, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the EPA, a joint WHO/FAO committee and a swathe of other regulators concluded that glyphosate was not carcinogenic, a barrage of criticism seeking to discredit these institutions’ competence as scientific bodies followed. At the forefront of the attack on EFSA were the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Italy’s Ramazzini Institute, which both continued to actively promote the alleged glyphosate-cancer link.

Read more: #EFSA: Food safety – politics and science simply cannot mix : EU Reporter

5/18/17

EU After Brexit: Like 20 Fewer Economies

1. Much of the international discussion about the ramifications of Brexit has focused on how leaving the European Union will change Britain.
2. However, there will also be significant changes for the EU.
3. The EU’s economy will shrink by close to its 20 smallest national economies with the departure of the UK.
4. The nominal GDP of the European Union in 2015 was $16.3 trillion, according to the World Bank.
5. The United Kingdom accounted for $2.9 trillion – or 18% — of that total.
6. The UK’s GDP in 2015 was about equal to the $2.9 trillion combined GDP of the 20 smallest EU member economies – from Malta to Belgium.
7. The economy of the EU without the UK totals $13.4 trillion (as of 2015).
8. By itself, the UK economy is somewhat larger than France’s economy ($2.4 trillion).
9. France will become the second-largest after the UK’s exit from the EU.
10. Germany ($3.4 trillion) will remain the largest economy in the EU.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, World Bank

From: EU After Brexit: Like 20 Fewer Economies - The Globalist

EU Military Developments: New HQ to take charge of EU military missions - by Andrew Rettman

EU Combined Military Forces Get HQ In Brussels
EU states have cleared the way for a new HQ to take charge of three military missions in a “couple of days”, as well as broader plans for joint defense.

The HQ will, in the words of 28 defence ministers adopted on Thursday (18 May), “assume responsibilities at the strategic level for the operational planning and conduct of the EU’s non-executive military missions” including “the three EU Training Missions deployed in Central African Republic, Mali and Somalia”.

Missions of a “non-executive” nature, in EU jargon, do not involve combat and cannot take decisions independently of their host nations.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said “the political decision is finalised” and that it would take “a couple of days” to have the new HQ “officially in place”.

An EU source said it was a matter of circulating and rubber-stamping the legal documents that would underpin the new entity.

They said the UK had, as of Monday, still objected to describing it in language that made it sound as though it was a military command structure or the start of a future EU army, but that compromise wording, which will be published shortly, had now been agreed.

The HQ will be located in a building that already houses Mogherini's military staff in Brussels, and will take over command tasks previously handled out separate locations in member states.

The EU defence ministers decided additionally on Thursday that deployment of EU “battlegroups” in the field would in future be paid for out of the EU budget and not by participating member states.

Read more: New HQ to take charge of EU military missions

Impeachment? Trump Advised to Hire an Outside Lawyer - by Taegan Goddard

“Several White House advisers and personal associates of President Trump have urged him to hire an experienced outside lawyer to help him deal with issues arising from a surging controversy over whether his campaign had ties to Russia,” the New York Times reports.

“Mr. Trump is said to recognize that he needs help beyond the White House counsel. But he is deeply cautious in selecting people he trusts, and he adds new people to his orbit slowly.”

Read more: Trump Advised to Hire an Outside Lawyer - Political Wire : Political Wire

USA: Reagan's chief of staff nails the dysfunction of US current politics – by Chad Selweski

Reagan's American dream meltdown
Reams of data and analysis in recent years have shown how America’s political system is broken, how hyper-partisanship has ruined good-government policy initiatives and put Capitol Hill in constant gridlock.

A tribal, “Yea Team” mentality among voters on the left and right has created a political polarization that is so stark that members of Congress overall are about as respected as used car salesmen who hawk life insurance on the side. Somehow along the path of the past two decades, doctrinaire political thinking – a devotion to party that resembles religious faith – tempted voters into thinking that it has always been this way, give or take.

On the far left, zealots seem to believe that Bernie Sanders is the logical successor of JFK, LBJ or even Jimmy Carter.

On the far right, ultraconservatives hoist Ronald Reagan on high as the ultimate rock-ribbed conservative who stuck to his guns. Ken Duberstein, Reagan’s chief of staff for several years, appeared on CBS’ “Face The Nation” recently and destroyed that notion. In fact, Duberstein related that Reagan was always open to compromise with Democrats and frequently belittled the true believers on the left and right.

According to Duberstein, Reagan’s approach to the give-and-take of negotiating with House Democrats was this: “’I’ll take 80% every time … that’s what governing is all about.’ Reagan understood that the far left and the far right, as he used to remind us, are ‘professional bitchers.’

“They don’t want to be satisfied. That’s how they get their members. That’s how they get their money. So, get what you can, get that 80%. Figure out how to build a (congressional) coalition that gets you that, and then keep moving. And don’t worry about the far left or far right.”

Duberstein’s recollections fit nicely with a recent piece about our current state of dysfunctional politics written for Forbes magazine by a former corporate CEO, Katherine Gehl, and a professor at Harvard Business School, Michael Porter.

Gehl and Porter make the case that the U.S. has betrayed their Constitution as the governing process increasingly is dominated by a political-industrial complex, a closed system, a duopoly tightly controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties. The parties, in turn, are controlled by special interests, lobbyists, pollsters, consultants, think tanks, super PACs, and the media — largely centered on particular partisan-based TV shows, talk-radio, websites and blogs.

“Over the last several decades,” they wrote, “the American political system has been slowly reconfigured to serve not the public interest, but rather the interest of private, gain-seeking organizations: our major political parties and their industry allies.”

The goal on each side is absolute power. The two political parties exist almost exclusively to win elections, not to accomplish any pragmatic improvements for the country. As a result, the preferences of the average voter, sucked in by cheerleading for their chosen team, have “a near-zero impact on public policy.”

At a time when our largest and fastest-growing bloc of voters are independents – those who refuse to kow-tow to either party – Democrats and Republicans each are obsessed with demonizing the opposition.

What’s more, Gehl and Porter argue that the us vs. them partisan politics of the 21st Century has led our system of governance far astray from its origins.

Read more: Reagan's chief of staff nails the dysfunction of our current politics – The Moderate Voice

5/17/17

Belgium: NATO Frantically Tries to Trump-Proof President’s First Visit to Bruxelles HQ

NATO UNDER STRESS
ForeignPolicy.com reports NATO is scrambling to tailor its upcoming meeting to avoid taxing President Donald Trump’s notoriously short attention span. The alliance is telling heads of state to limit talks to two to four minutes at a time during the discussion, several sources inside NATO and former senior U.S. officials tell Foreign Policy. And the alliance scrapped plans to publish the traditional full post-meeting statement meant to crystallize NATO’s latest strategic stance. 
 
On May 25, NATO will host the heads of state of all 28 member countries in what will be Trump’s first face-to-face summit with an alliance he bashed repeatedly while running for president. NATO traditionally organizes a meeting within the first few months of a new U.S. president’s term, but Trump has the alliance more on edge than any previous newcomer, forcing organizers to look for ways to make the staid affair more engaging. 

“It’s kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump,” said one source briefed extensively on the meeting’s preparations. “It’s like they’re preparing to deal with a child — someone with a short attention span and mood who has no knowledge of NATO, no interest in in-depth policy issues, nothing,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They’re freaking out.”

Still, despite these changes, experts are wary of how Trump will react to NATO meetings and their long-winded, diplomatic back-and-forth among dozens of heads of state, which can quickly balloon into hours of meandering discussions. One former senior NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described these meetings as “important but painfully dull.”

Rank-and-file diplomats always try to push for shorter, more efficient meetings at NATO. “It’s not so unusual that they strain to try to keep it interesting and short and not dragged down into details,” said Jim Townsend, who served as the Pentagon’s top NATO envoy until January. But what is unusual is the president. 

“Even a brief NATO summit is way too stiff, too formal, and too policy heavy for Trump. Trump is not going to like that,” said Jorge Benitez, a NATO expert with the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. 

Another change: NATO traditionally publishes a formal readout, known as a declaration, after each major meeting or summit. While they’re often lathered in diplomatic drivel, declarations signal new strategies and key policy shifts that come out of closed-door meetings, giving direction to allies and the NATO bureaucracy — and showcasing alliance unity toward rivals like Russia, a former senior NATO official told FP.

This year, NATO has scrapped plans to publish a full formal meeting declaration. One NATO official said that’s because it’s not a full summit, like past major NATO gatherings in Warsaw in 2016 or Wales in 2014. “It’s not necessary to have another full declaration, as it’s not a full summit,” the official said. “This meeting is just much more focused.”

But behind closed doors, other officials are giving a different reason. NATO isn’t publishing a full declaration “because they’re worried Trump won’t like it,” another source said.

Experts say a declaration could be invaluable to European allies still struggling to get a read on Trump’s stance on Europe. Four months into office, Trump hasn’t clarified U.S. policy toward Europe — he cheered Brexit and appeared to endorse anti-Europe candidate Marine Le Pen in the recent French elections — let alone toward NATO.

Trump rattled NATO allies during the campaign by slamming the alliance as “obsolete” and openly praising Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since he became president, top administration officials, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence, traveled to Brussels to soothe Europeans’ nerves and reiterate customary U.S. commitments to the 68-year-old alliance. Meanwhile, Trump declared in April during a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that the alliance is “no longer obsolete.”

But the president’s erratic policy shifts and surprise Twitter storms on other international issues have NATO jittery, a former senior NATO official told FP. (Trump offered a taste of this during his awkward meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in March, where he refused to shake her hand; German officials also said he handed her a fake “bill” for overdue NATO payments, though the White House swiftly denied those claims.)

“People are scared of his unpredictability, intimidated by how he might react knowing the president might speak his mind — or tweet his mind,” the former official said.

Ultimately, to keep Trump on board, NATO will probably set out to sell those recent changes as a concession to Washington, even though “98 percent of the changes NATO undertook are because of Russia, not because of Trump,” Benitez said.

That might secure Trump a happy ending to this first meeting, but could spell more trouble down the road.  “They may give Trump credit, but privately many allies feel they’re being bullied into it,” Benitez said. “Trump’s approach to NATO is poisoning the relationship.”  One former NATO official said the agenda meant to mollify Trump appeared to amount to repackaging what NATO was already doing — increasing its defense spending and continuing to support U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and the counter-Islamic State campaign — in a new wrapper for the president.

“They think they’re fine because they’re going to put old wine in new bottles,” one former senior U.S. official told FP. Whether Trump buys it remains to be seen 

"NATO's overall state of mind", an EU parliamentarian said , "is panicky, for fear, not only to avoid stepping on the toes of their self-glorifying "Trumpland" leader, but  also the ever increasing  and likely possibility that the EU is on the verge of developing its own independent military force, which won't be a tool of US foreign policy anymore."  

Given the context of the above story, not all, however, is bad for NATO.  

An interesting report recently came out, produced by NATO and the Millennium Project, which is quite practical in nature and worth reading: "Identification  of  Potential Terrorists and Adversary Planning" , edited by Theodore J. Gordon, Elizabeth Florescu, Jerome C. Glenn and Yair Sharan .

EU-Digest

High Tech: European tech is heading into its best days - by Rolf Schroemgens

VentureBeat recently reported that the biggest economic story in Europe right now has nothing to do with populism, Brexit or Trump. It’s not something that’s happening in the boardrooms of our multinationals, and it’s not something happening in the political corridors of power.

The most interesting story in Europe right now is happening in the coworking spaces and coffee shops of our leading EU tech hubs. It’s the untold story of the pan-European technology boom, and it’s going to be one of the key drivers of Europe’s economic future over the next five years.

Why aren’t we celebrating this? Put simply, its narrative is interspersed with competition: London competing with Berlin, Berlin competing with Lisbon, the list goes on. We tend to focus on the stories of individual cities and risk missing the bigger picture. It’s time we start talking about the “European story.”

European technology was initially concentrated in a few major centers – namely London, Berlin and Paris. But as Europe’s tech sector has matured we have seen a more decentralized network appearing, with a number of strong, smaller cities, specializing in different sectors.

We’re now seeing regional cities or smaller capitals developing names for themselves in tech subsectors – the recent Slush and Atomico State of European Tech report highlighted that Munich, Zurich, Lisbon, Madrid, and Copenhagen in particular, will be ones to watch over the coming years.

The best kind of technology is borderless, and Europe’s tech companies are exploiting that, finding new regions and tech hubs in which to start up, many of which have low rents, good quality of life, and a well-educated, highly experienced workforce. European governments have woken up to this and are doing all they can to create the very best environment for young companies.

The Estonian government has gone even further – its e-residency is redefining what citizenship means in a digital world, whilst the Portuguese government has made Lisbon one of the globe’s most attractive places to start a tech company, including significant tax breaks for investments in the sector.

This increasingly borderless attitude has also had a noticeable knock-on effect on the companies themselves. European tech startups have internationalization built in from day one – a unique quality. It’s much easier to get a truly international workforce with a global outlook when you’re recruiting from a diverse pool of talent.

Tech founders based across Europe can also get by without speaking German/Portuguese/Estonian, etc. The vast majority of European tech companies operate in English, meaning that working together across borders has never been easier.

Europe’s history of innovation is exceptionally strong and our collective cultures, though so different in many ways, share some fundamental values. It may seem like a generalization but the European “way” is highly iterative. We don’t look for that big breakthrough, the fabled “light bulb moment.”

Instead we work hard to make small incremental improvements as we improve gradually. It’s our shared engineering heritage and our focus on continuous learning and continuous improvement that sets us apart. It might not be headline-grabbing, but it’s working.

Take Booking.com. It’s a shining light of European iterative and continuous improvement. At the end of 2015 it reported, for the first time, that it had more than 21 million bookable rooms. This is an astonishing figure, that has been achieved over a number of years (Booking.com was founded in 1996).

 Skift, a travel news publication, reported that the Dutch company is “a much larger lodging provider than Airbnb by just about every measure.” But if you were to take a straw poll over which company is perceived to be more “innovative,” you can bet Airbnb would win every time.

We share the same philosophy at Trivago. Rather than launch new products or services with a big fanfare, we look to carefully test and learn. We release new technology slowly, we test relentlessly, and the ones that work, we keep and continue to refine and improve. It’s the European way, and it works.

So Europe’s tech fundamentals are only getting stronger. But we’re still dwarfed by Silicon Valley when it comes to availability of capital, which is crucial for young companies. The good news is that the VC funding in Europe is growing dramatically.

A Tech.EU report showed that funding in 2016 has grown 11.7 percent by value year on year, with the number of deals up 32 percent. U.S. firms are increasingly investing in European companies, but European VC firms are starting up across the continent in droves. As with many things in tech, VC funds go where the momentum is. And the momentum is increasingly coming from Europe.

So our continent has a bright future and one that is becoming more reliant on the success of its broader tech sector and less reliant on one particular city. The decentralized network, with a strong focus on internationalization, means startups across Europe are exceptionally well positioned to succeed. We may not shout the loudest, but I’m confident that Europe is evolving in the right way.

EU-Digest

Violence and religion: 'Violence more common' in Bible than Quran, text analysis reveals in "misleading study"- by Samuel Osborne

An analysis into whether the Quran is more violent than the Bible found killing and destruction occur more frequently in the Christian texts than the Islamic.

Investigating whether the Quran really is more violent than its Judeo-Christian counterparts, software engineer Tom Anderson processed the text of the Holy books to find which contained the most violence.

It took just two minutes for his software to read and analyse the three books.

 In a blog post, Mr Anderson explains: "The project was inspired by the ongoing public debate around whether or not terrorism connected with Islamic fundamentalism reflects something inherently and distinctly violent about Islam compared to other major religions."

Using text analytics software he had developed, named Odin Text, he analysed both the New International Version of both the Old and New Testaments as well as an English-language version of the Quran from 1957.

By categorizing words into eight emotions - Joy, Anticipation, Anger, Disgust, Sadness, Surprise, Fear/Anxiety and Trust - the analysis found the Bible scored higher for anger and much lower for trust than the Quran.

Further analysis found the Old Testament was more violent than the New Testament, and more than twice as violent as the Quran.

However, he adds: "First, I want to make very clear that we have not set out to prove or disprove that Islam is more violent than other religions.

"Moreover, we realize that the Old and New Testaments and the Quran are neither the only literature in Islam, Christianity and Judaism, nor do they constitute the sum of these religions’ teachings and protocols.

"I must also reemphasize that this analysis is superficial and the findings are by no means intended to be conclusive. Ours is a 30,000-ft, cursory view of three texts: the Quran and the Old and New  testament.

Note EU-Digest: the original headline of this article in the Independent is misleading and so is the study, specifically when it comes to the focus on violence, 

Case in point: has the bible ever inspired Christians to strap explosives to teenagers and have them walk into crowded market places and detonate themselves, causing their own death, and many other casualties, or inspired Christians to drive trucks or other vehicles into public gatherings and kill as many people as possible shouting "Jesus is great" ? 

On the other hand, one must also admit that in times of war, Christian nations military forces have killed millions of innocent civilians, afterwards calling the people killed by their indiscriminate bombings, "collateral damage".    

Maybe the conclusion is that evil things happen when people start interpreting their religious beliefs to fit their own needs and not the other way around?

Read more: 'Violence more common' in Bible than Quran, text analysis reveals | The Independent

Russia: Putin offers transcript to prove Trump did not pass Russia secrets - by Denis Pinchuk and Andrew Osborn

 Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump had not divulged any secrets during a meeting in Washington with Russian officials and offered to prove it by supplying Congress with a transcript.


Two U.S. officials said on Monday Trump had disclosed classified information about a planned Islamic State operation to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when they met last week, plunging the White House into a fresh controversy just four months into Trump's tenure.

Trump, whose administration has been dogged by allegations that Russia helped him win the White House and that he and his allies are too cozy with Moscow, has defended his decision to discuss intelligence with the Russians after media reports of the meeting alarmed some U.S. and foreign politicians.

President Putin deployed his trademark sarcasm on Wednesday to make clear he thought the accusation that Trump had divulged secrets absurd.

"I spoke to him (Lavrov) today," a smiling Putin told a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

"I'll be forced to issue him (Lavrov) with a reprimand because he did not share these secrets with us. Not with me, nor with representatives of Russia's intelligence services. It was very bad of him."

Putin, who still hopes Moscow can repair battered ties with the United States despite a deepening political scandal in the United States related to Trump's purported Russia ties, said Moscow had rated Lavrov's meeting with Trump highly.

But a leading U.S. Republican politician (no name supplied by Reuters) said he would have little faith in any notes Putin might supply.
  
Read more: Putin offers transcript to prove Trump did not pass Russia secrets | Reuters

5/16/17

Turkey: EU warns Turkey after it violates Greek airspace 141 times in one day – by Sarantis Michalopoulos

T
EU Euro-fighters  ready to chase Turkish intruders
Turkish aeroplanes and helicopters illegally entered Greece’s airspace 141 times yesterday (15 May), the Hellenic National Defence General Staff reported.

According to Greek press reports, 20 Turkish F-16, 5 CN-235 maritime surveillance aircraft and 19 helicopters entered the Athens flight information region (FIR) without submitting a flight plan.

In all cases, Turkish aircraft were identified and intercepted by Greek fighters, while in nine cases the interception process resulted in near combat situations.

In addition, two Turkish missile boats entered Greek territorial waters off the southeast Aegean island of Agathonisi.

The vessels, which were taking part in a maritime exercise code-named Denizkurdu (Seawolf), stayed in Greek territorial waters for about 20 minutes. As Kathimerini journal reported, last month Agathonisi was described as a “Turkish island” by Turkey’s Minister of European Union Affairs Omer Celik.

While the EU and the international community recognise the sovereignty of Greece over the Greek Aegean islands, Turkey has a list of issues regarding the delimitation of territorial waters, national airspace, exclusive zones, etc. Ankara also claims “grey zones” of undetermined sovereignty over a number of small islets, most notably the islets of Imia/Kardak.

The serious incidents occurred just a few hours after the meeting of Greek premier Alexis Tsipras with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan in Beijing.

The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a strong communique saying that the incident “constitutes a flagrant violation of international law”.

Read more: EU warns Turkey after it violates Greek airspace 141 times in one day – EURACTIV.com

The Netherlands: Dutch PM refuses 2nd try at governing with anti-Islam nationalist PVV Geert Wilders

Dutch PM Mark Rutte
VVD leader Mark Rutte is carefully considering the next steps in the Dutch cabinet formation now that negotiations between his party, the CDA, D66 and GroenLinks collapsed. He is clear on one thing however - the VVD still won't rule with anti-Islam nationalist Geert Wilders and his PVV, he said to RTL Nieuws.

Wilders posted on Twitter that the PVV is available for a coalition almost immediately after mediator Edith Schippers announced that the . To cameras the leaders of the VVD, CDA, D66 and GroenLinks all said that they are disappointed by the mutual agreement to end the talks.

But sources told NRC that the talks collapsed r would not agree with a proposal to make an asylum deal with north African countries that is similar to the deal between Turkey and the EU - money for shelter in the region, in return for the borders being closed to asylum seekers who want to come to Europe.

Rutte would not say anything about his preference for a coalition. "We're going to take it step by step", he said to the broadcaster, adding that he wants to "first calmly discuss it with the faction."

The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, will debate on how to proceed regarding the government formation from 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday, Kamer president Khadija Arib announced after meeting with all the party leaders on Tuesday. Schippers is expected to send her report on the failed negotiations to the Kamer later this afternoon.

The leaders of the parties not involved in the formation talks are demanding clarity on what happened as soon as possible, according to the Volkskrant. "Was this a serious attempt or a stage play?" PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher wants to know. He added that the PvdA is still not available for the next formation attempt.

"I'm surprised that it took six weeks to find out that you can't agree with GroenLinks on migration", PVV leader Geert Wilders said.

ChristenUnie, considered by many as the most likely party to replace GroenLinks in the formation talks, is wonderig how definite this negotiation collapse is. Leader Gert-Jan Segers is willing to discuss joining a VVD, CDA, D66 coalition, but only if GroenLinks is definitely off the table.

This is the first time the Kamer has to deal with failed formation negotiations since the King was removed from the formation picture in 2012. Because new negotiations now have to start, a new mediator may be appointed. As the VVD is the biggest party, Rutte will nominate a mediator.

According to the Volkskrant, it is likely that Edith Schippers will again be nominated as she already knows all the parties wishes and demands.

Read more: Dutch PM refuses 2nd try at governing with anti-Islam nationalist PVV | NL Times