Weekly News 28 May – 1 June 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 28 May 2018

Migration: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says protecting external borders is his “priority” in an effort to stop migrants from crossing the Mediterranean. Kurz wants assurances from countries like Albania that the Balkan refugee route from Greece via Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro to central Europe is monitored. (Reuters)

France: The Malian migrant who scaled four storeys up a building in Paris to rescue a dangling toddler has been named an honorary French citizen after meeting President Emmanuel Macron. Mamoudou Gassama – nicknamed the Spiderman of Paris – climbed the city apartment block to reach the helpless child. (Independent)

France: French President Emmanuel Macron has claimed credit for solving a political crisis in Lebanon last year and stated publicly that Saudi Arabia had held Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri for several weeks. Lebanon was plunged into crisis in November when Hariri resigned as prime minister while in Saudi Arabia, saying he feared assassination and criticising the Saudis’ regional rival Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah. (Reuters)

Germany: Germany is looking with concern at signs that the network of multilateral organizations and agreements designed to foster international cooperation is being weakened, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a Berlin conference on Monday. (Reuters)

Turkey: Turkey will relocate polling stations in some areas with a high Kurdish population, a move officials said would stop voter intimidation, but which the main pro-Kurdish party called a manoeuvre to keep it out of parliament in elections next month. Announcing the measure on Monday, the High Electoral Board (YSK) did not specify how many ballot boxes would be moved but said 144,000 voters lived in the affected districts in eastern provinces. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the polling stations were being moved from villages where the party has a strong backing to nearby villages with more support for President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party. (Reuters)

European Union: Gaza and the ailing Iran nuclear deal have been topping a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels. Outside the EU Council building, campaigners placed 4,500 pairs of empty shoes as a reminder of the loss of lives in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the last decade. Ministers agreed immediate action was needed to prevent further deaths in Gaza and that humanitarian access needed to be guaranteed. “The tensions in Gaza happen in a context of lack of a peace process and in the context of developments in Jerusalem and we still are all committed, all the 28, to consider Jerusalem the future capital of the two states,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters. (euronews)

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Belgium: A prison inmate on a 48-hour leave fatally shot two police officers and a civilian and then took a woman hostage at a school in the eastern city of Liège on Tuesday, before being killed by the police, officials said. No students were injured. “The goal of the attacker was to target the police,” Liège’s police chief, Christian Beaupère, said. The assailant, a Belgian, had a long criminal record. (New York Times)

Malta: Andrew and Matthew Caruana Galizia say the story behind their mother’s assassination is that of a small Mediterranean Island state that has been taken over by outside interests. Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese investigative journalist and anti-corruption activist who was investigating Maltese government links to money laundering and tax evasion. She was killed in a car bomb close to her home last year. (euronews)

Gaza: The Israeli military has intercepted a Palestinian protest bound for Limassol in Cyprus. The Freedom Flotilla set sail from the local port on Tuesday in defiance of a 12-year Israeli sea blockade on Gaza. The boat, said to be carrying 17 passengers and crew, was stopped by the Israeli navy which announced it had taken control of the vessel less than 12 miles from its home port. The International Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC) said in a statement it “condemns Israel’s brutal act of state piracy in attacking the aptly named Hurriya (Liberty) vessel which attempted to leave the port of Gaza today filled with people needing urgent medical assistance as well as students and crew, as they attempted to peacefully make safe passage to Cyprus. (euronews)

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Germany: Police said on Wednesday that a knife attack had taken place on a train in Flensburg, in northern Germany. At least one person was killed and two other people were injured, one seriously (euronews)

Spy story: Ukraine’s secret service has revealed it faked the assassination of a high-profile critic of Vladimir Putin. Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko was gunned down outside his home in Kyiv on Tuesday, local authorities said at the time. Tributes flowed in, Ukraine accused the Kremlin of organising the killing, and the Kremlin retorted by demanding more protection for its citizens in the country.Then, the next day, Babchenko appeared at a press conference. (euronews)

Hungary’s Government vs migrants: Individuals or NGOs that help illegal migrants gain status in Hungary could face prison sentences under a new set of government laws, informally known as the ‘Stop Soros’ plan. The legislation is part of the right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán government’s campaign against George Soros- a Hungarian-born billionaire financier and philanthropist. Orbán’s government has vilified Soros the past year as the main backer of illegal migration to Europe. “Those who provide financial means . . . or conduct this organisational activity on a regular basis will be punishable with up to one year in prison,” said the official text of the proposals. (reuters)

Greece:  Moving trains, planes and ships were all hard to find in Greece on Wednesday as much of the country ground to a halt. Workers are striking against a new wave of austerity measures that are due to kick in after the nation’s third international bailout expires this summer. Since 2009, Greece has received 260 billion euros in loans in exchange for implementing austerity measures such as public sector layoffs, tax hikes and pension cuts, and unions are angry. (euronews)

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Trade War: Canada will impose retaliatory tariffs on US exports and challenge US tariffs under both North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), said Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland at a press conference on Thursday. The US decided to slap tariffs on the EU, Canada and Mexico for steel and aluminium imports – sparking a potential trade war. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said a 25% tariff would apply to steel imports from the trio and 10% for aluminum. The White House gave the three a 30-day reprieve in order to negotiate deals with the Trump administration to avoid the taxes. (euronews)

Italy: Italy’s anti-establishment parties revived coalition plans on Thursday, ending three months of political turmoil by announcing a government that promises to increase spending, challenge European Union fiscal rules and crack down on immigration. The coalition deal, following inconclusive elections in March, removes the risk of a repeat vote, a prospect that had sparked a big selloff in Italian financial markets this week. The leaders of the right-wing League and the 5-Star Movement patched up their alliance after agreeing to substitute a eurosceptic they had initially proposed as economy minister, a nomination that had been rejected by the head of state. “All the conditions have been fulfilled for a political, 5-Star and League government,” 5-Star chief Luigi Di Maio and League leader Matteo Salvini said in a joint statement after several hours of talks in central Rome. Just a few hours later their chosen prime minister Giuseppe Conte, a little-known law professor who belongs to neither party and has not been elected, presented his list of ministers after receiving his second mandate in eight days. (reuters)

Syria: President Bashar al-Assad said the United States should learn the lesson of Iraq and withdraw from Syria, and promised to recover areas of the country held by U.S.-backed militias through negotiations or force. In an interview with Russia Today, Assad said the government had “started now opening doors for negotiations” with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish dominated militia alliance that controls parts of northern and eastern Syria where U.S. forces are stationed. “This is the first option. If not, we’re going to resort to … liberating those areas by force. We don’t have any other options, with the Americans or without the Americans,” he said. “The Americans should leave, somehow they’re going to leave”. (reuters)

Friday, 1 June 2018

Italy: Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the right-wing League succeeded Thursday in forming western Europe’s first populist government, which will be headed by a political novice. League leader Matteo Salvini and 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio agreed to shuffle the proposed roster of government ministers amid a financial market scare. They moved Paolo Savona, the 81-year-old euroskeptic economistvetoed by Italy’s president from overseeing the economy ministry, to a European affairs Cabinet post. Savona had said previously that Italy should have a contingency plan to abandon the euro. (Associated Press)

Trade War: The EU plans to challenge President Trump’s tariffs at the World Trade Organisation. The WTO has been around in various forms since just after the Second World War, and because international trade is a complicated business, it’s continually evolving.

Spain: Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has today been ousted in a no-confidence vote and will be replaced by socialist Pedro Sánchez. MPs rose one-by-one to cast their vote in a motion that was triggered by a long-running corruption trial involving members of his centre-right party. Pro-European Sánchez becomes Spain’s seventh prime minister since its return to democracy in the 1970s. The vote saw 180 MPs vote in favour of the no-confidence motion in Rajoy, with 169 against and one abstention. (euronews)

France: Members of France’s far-right National Front party voted to change its name to the “National Rally” on Friday, in a bid to shed a brand associated by many voters with racism and anti-Semitism and facilitate alliances with other parties. Le Pen said the decision would give the party new momentum and that priority should be to gain power, which could only be achieved through a coalition with allies. The new name – “Rassemblement National” in French, meaning rally or union – is meant to show the party’s new willingness to rally other parties behind it, and drop antagonistic connotations of the old Front, she said. (reuters)