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« Reply #3195 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:07 AM »

11/27/2012 01:12 PM

EU Initiative: Berlin Seeks to Stop Weapons Smuggling into Gaza

Germany wants the European Union to help monitor the borders of the Gaza Strip and prevent weapons smuggling, according to media reports. Part of the plan calls for the EU to resume a mission at the Rafah crossing point between Egypt and Gaza, and to help equip Egyptian border guards.

The German government wants the European Union to launch an inititivative to stop weapons from being smuggled into the Gaza Strip, German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Tuesday, citing an informal working paper from the German Foreign Ministry.

The EU must "quickly clarify what contribution it can make towards a lasting ceasefire agreement," the ministry paper says, according to the influential Munich-based broadsheet. An agreement will only work if smuggling is prevented and the Gaza economy can be improved by opening the border crossings, it added.

The German initiative calls for a "rapid reactivation" of an EU mission at the Egyptian-Palestinian border crossing at Rafah. The European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) in Rafah was created in 2005 to help set up effective border management and customs processing at the site. The mission was closed down after Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Training and Equipment

The German Foreign Ministry also wants Egypt to receive EU help in equipping its border police to stop smuggling. That assistance is to take the form of training and the "generous provision of border control equipment," the ministry paper says.

It added that in addition to holding discussions with Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, a way would have to be found to secure approval by the "de factor authorities in Gaza" -- meaning Hamas.

During its eight-day bombing campaign against missile launch sites in Gaza, Israel also attacked smuggling tunnels in Rafah. Such tunnels are used not only to transport cement, petrol, medicine, clothing, food and everyday items, but also weapons, ammunition, explosives and missile parts for Hamas.

Since the attacks ended with last week's ceasefire, the tunnel building has resumed in Rafah.
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« Reply #3196 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:10 AM »

11/27/2012 11:56 AM

Sifting Through the Fallout: Death Hangs over the Gaza Strip after the Fighting

By Jonathan Stock

More than 160 people died in the eight-day Gaza war. And though the fighting may have stopped, the dead and the nightmares remain. Survivors and victims' families say they want revenge.

Hussam Ashi, a driver in the Gaza Strip, admits that he lied. He couldn't bring himself to tell his six-year-old son Hatim that a war was going on, or that rockets were pointed at them. He avoided the explanations that necessarily follow from such sentences, explanations burdened with the experiences of at least three generations.

Instead, he told his son that there was a party outside, which explained the fireworks and the noise -- an eight-day party. During those eight days, Hatim would sometimes comfort his father when he came from work looking depressed. "Papa," he would say, "don't be sad. We're having a party."

The war is over, leaving behind more than 1,200 wounded and 160 dead, but a charred odor still hangs in the air. Drones circle above like insects stuck inside a room, unable to find their way out. The rocket contrails have disappeared from the sky, and yet this sandy strip is still sealed off, day and night, by a 52-kilometer (33-mile) wall equipped with remote-controlled weapons stations and surveillance cameras.

The fishing boots are heading out to sea again, but they are not permitted to cross a line three nautical miles offshore, which is guarded by Israeli navy warships. The dead from past wars are buried in the dry earth below. Here in Gaza, air, water and land are barriers, not possibilities. There are no airports, train stations or ports through which someone wishing to get away could leave the Gaza Strip. Even in times of peace, Gaza feels like a prison.

The Law of Revenge

"We're just guinea pigs," says Gaza Health Minister Mufeed Mkhallalati, one of the few representatives of the Hamas government to make public appearances during the war. Every evening, wearing a white doctor's coat, he stood in front of the Al-Shifa Hospital, where the Israelis believed Hamas had one of its command centers, as the dead were being carried out.

"We are guinea pigs, and the Israelis are testing their weapons on us," says the minister. "I was a surgeon for three years, and I come from Gaza, but I have never seen anything like this before."

He is talking about third-degree burns, corpses that look like mummies, amputations after explosions and bodies that were brought in in fist-size pieces.

Mkhallalati says that he is a doctor and doesn't want to say much about it, but adds that the law of revenge exists all over the world, and that it's a good law. "We are certain that the Israelis will meet a worse end than our fate," he says. "It's the way of the world." He doesn't mention the hundreds of rockets Hamas fired into southern Israel.

Nightmares Remain

Motorcades now drive through the streets, which were abandoned until recently, children hand out sweets and sing victory songs, and Palestinians shoot into the air to celebrate, sometimes inadvertently taking even more victims. The blood-spattered shoe and shredded jacket of one of six alleged Israeli spies, who were shot to death in broad daylight, still lie on Nasser Street in the center of Gaza City. The Hamas radio station will later claim that the men were carrying "high-tech equipment and cameras" to pinpoint targets for Israeli rocket attacks.

Members of Hamas allegedly questioned the Palestinian "traitors" working for the Israelis before they were executed. They then chained together one of the six men's feet, tied the body to a motorcycle and dragged it across the asphalt -- to deter copycats.

It's an archaic way of defiling corpses, not unlike the description in Homer's Iliad of Achilles dragging Hector's body with his chariot around a grave. Hamas leaders and the police have made a point of condemning the act, and they say that there will be an investigation, but many in the city agree with the executions.

Although the fighting has stopped, the dead and the nightmares remain. Parents in the refugee camps say that their children wake up screaming at night, after dreaming about Israelis invading their houses, destroying everything inside and killing their brothers, or about getting locked up during attacks and not being able to get away.

Killed By a Drone

Half of the 1.7 million people in Gaza are children. According to Palestinian sources, about 30 children died in this eight-day war, out of a total death toll of more than 160, half of them civilians. One of the dead was 43-year-old Zaki Kadada, the son of a fisherman. Kadada was 1.70 meters (5'7" feet) tall and was born July 3, 1969. His blood group was O positive, and he had light-brown eyes and black hair. At least that's what his identification card said -- when he was taken to the hospital, he had no head.

He died in his SUV in the southern part of Gaza City at about 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, a day before the ceasefire, after midday prayers, after a cup of tea, and after telling his children to stop playing and do their homework. He was on his way to a funeral when he was shot and killed by a drone. Perhaps it was even the pride of the Israeli air force, the new "Eitan" drone, named after a Hebrew word meaning "strong." The Eitan weighs more than four tons and has a wingspan as large as that of a Boeing 737.

When they brought him to the hospital, on that deadly afternoon of last week, the crowd of curious onlookers was so thick that the paramedics had trouble lifting the body from the ambulance. "Martyrs are the favorites of God," they shouted. Then they laid him out in the morgue, behind the video screen Hamas used to show propaganda videos glorifying the heroic acts of its fighters.

When his nephew Taufik came to identify the body, he was only able to recognize the headless body by his mobile phone. He was a good man, a civilian and a hero, says Taufik, and he leaves behind a wife, a mother, 10 brothers, four sisters, four daughters and three sons: Shaima, 16, Jihan, 15, Muamin, 11, Mohammed, 9, Basan, 7, Hala, 3, and Yussuf, 7 months.

Hala, named after the halo of light around the moon, was up all night asking where her father was, says a cousin. He's in paradise, she told the little girl, but Hala didn't understand.

'They Will Never Stop Killing Us'

The body wasn't washed with soap, clear water or rosewater, or wrapped in three shrouds, as is normally the custom. Because Kadada died violently, as a martyr, a shaheed, he will be buried in the blood-soaked clothes he was wearing when he died. For devout Muslims, the bodies of martyrs are fragrant even without rosewater, and their path leads directly to paradise.

When asked about Kadada's death, a spokesman for the Israeli army says it was a targeted strike, and that there were terror suspects in the car. He points out that there was a second explosion after the strike, suggesting that there were weapons in the car.

The second explosion, if there was one, was the fuel tank, say the victim's family members. Besides, they add, everyone in the neighborhood knows that Kadada was not a terrorist but a civilian, the bodyguard of a politician with Fatah, the moderate movement, which now has only little influence in the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, the man he was supposed to protect was in Ramallah when the drone strike hit the car.

Kadada is carried to his grave the next day. The family doesn't go to the main cemetery, because it's too close to the Israeli border, but to the small, muddy and crowded Sheikh Radwan Cemetery. Hundreds have come to the funeral, their heads bowed. There are no women, as is the Islamic custom. The men stand around the grave, smooth out the earth and bring stones to the site. "Zaki," says one man, "all the men here love you!" Then he pours water onto the soil and says: "Drink."

A cousin says the prayer, his palms held up to the sky, as drones monitoring the cemetery pass by overhead. "They will never stop killing us," he says, "but this remains the land of God, a free country."

In the family's house in the western part of the city, on the Mediterranean, his mother sits with other women. Sirya Kadada, 80, has just lost her son, the best boy one could imagine, she says. She is weeping as she picks up a mobile phone with a photo of her son on the screen. "Habibi, Habibi," she says, "my darling, my darling." Still weeping, she kisses the screen. By now everyone in the room is crying.

How does she feel about the people who killed her son? She stops, looks up and says: "We hope that God will take revenge on these people."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


November 26, 2012

Talks Begin in Cairo on Steps After Gaza Cease-Fire


JERUSALEM — Egyptian and Israeli officials began talks in Cairo on Monday on the cease-fire understandings with Hamas. But the process, marked by a degree of confusion that has already led to clashes along the Israel-Gaza border, remained opaque as officials in Israel and Gaza refused to comment.

Yasser Othman, Egypt’s representative to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, told the independent Palestinian news agency Maan that the talks were focusing on opening border crossings into Gaza, with Egypt mediating between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the enclave.

Israeli officials refused even to confirm that a delegation had arrived in Cairo. It was not immediately clear whether this stemmed from an agreement between the sides to maintain discretion, or if it was part of an Israeli effort to play down the idea it was making any concessions to Hamas.

The cease-fire deal, reached on Wednesday, brought to an end eight days of hostilities between Israel and the militant groups in Gaza during which Israel bombed more than 1,000 targets in Gaza and the militants fired more than 1,500 rockets into Israel, leaving more than 160 Palestinians and 6 Israelis dead.

It was agreed at the time that within 24 hours of the cease-fire, the parties would begin dealing with broader issues like easing restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza and allowing Palestinians more access to a buffer zone that Israel had imposed on the Gaza side of the border.

Israeli officials have confirmed that talks are to be held on those issues but have so far focused on aspects of the agreement that Israel considers beneficial to it: an understanding with the American backers of the agreement about a new international effort to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza, and the fact that Israel will be talking only to the Egyptians. The Israelis said they hoped that Egypt would also be part of the effort to stop the flow of weapons mainly supplied by Iran.

“We attach importance to the dialogue with Egypt,” one Israeli official, who was not authorized to comment publicly on the issue, said Monday. “Hopefully we can positively engage with the Egyptian government, which is something that we view as a plus.”

“Easing the restrictions can bolster the quiet in the south and strengthen the longevity of the quiet, which is fragile,” he added. “It is easier for us to be forthcoming on civilian issues than on issues we see as strengthening Hamas.”

Over the past two years, under international pressure, Israel has eased its restrictions on the entry of goods into Gaza, but Israel still bans a list of materials that it says could be used for building weapons or fortifications. Export from Gaza to the West Bank or abroad has been extremely limited, with Israel citing security concerns because goods would have to pass through its territory.

Egypt has limited movement through the passenger crossing on its border with Gaza. In addition, Israel has maintained a strict naval blockade on the coastal strip, saying it is essential to prevent weapons smuggling.

Maher Abu Sabha, the chief of the administration of crossings in the Hamas government, said there had been no changes as yet at the Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt.

Israel has said it is willing to discuss all the issues. Citing the easing of restrictions over the past two years, a senior Israeli government official said last week, “In the absence of hostility and in an environment of peace and quiet, Israel has no problem continuing this process.”

Palestinians in Gaza have already been testing the Israeli limits, with farmers and demonstrators entering lands adjacent to the border fence, and fishermen sailing beyond the permitted zone. On Friday, a Palestinian man was killed and nine others were wounded by Israeli fire, according to Health Ministry officials in Gaza. The Israeli military said soldiers had fired warning shots and then fired at the feet of some Palestinians who tried to cross the border fence into Israeli territory.

In another episode on Monday, a Palestinian man crossed the fence into Israeli territory, entered a house in a nearby Israeli village and stabbed a woman, injuring her slightly, according to the military. Soldiers shot and killed the man as he tried to escape. The military said he had been acting in a threatening manner.

Fares Akram contributed reporting from Gaza.
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« Reply #3197 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:12 AM »

Britain ready to back Palestinian bid for statehood at UN

By Ian Black, The Guardian
Monday, November 26, 2012 22:07 EST

Britain is prepared to back a key vote recognising Palestinian statehood at the United Nations if Mahmoud Abbas pledges not to pursue Israel for war crimes and to resume peace talks.

Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has called for Britain’s backing in part because of its historic responsibility for Palestine. The government has previously refused, citing strong US and Israeli objections and fears of long-term damage to prospects for negotiations.

On Monday night, the government signalled it would change tack and vote yes if the Palestinians modified their application, which is to be debated by the UN general assembly in New York later this week. As a “non-member state”, Palestine would have the same status as the Vatican.

Whitehall officials said the Palestinians were now being asked to refrain from applying for membership of the international criminal court or the international court of justice, which could both be used to pursue war crimes charges or other legal claims against Israel.

Abbas is also being asked to commit to an immediate resumption of peace talks “without preconditions” with Israel. The third condition is that the general assembly’s resolution does not require the UN security council to follow suit.

The US and Israel have both hinted at possible retaliation if the vote goes ahead. Congress could block payments to the Palestinian Authority and Israel might freeze tax revenues it transfers under the 1993 Oslo agreement or, worse, withdraw from the agreement altogether. It could also annex West Bank settlements. Britain’s position is that it wants to reduce the risk that such threats might be implemented and bolster Palestinian moderates.

France has already signalled that it will vote yes on Thursday, and the long-awaited vote is certain to pass as 132 UN members have recognised the state of Palestine. Decisions by Germany, Spain and Britain are still pending and Palestinians would clearly prefer a united EU position as counterweight to the US.

Willian Hague, the foreign secretary, discussed the issue on Monday with Abbas and the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, offiicals said.

Palestinian sources said Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, raised the issue with Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters last week, shortly before a ceasefire was agreed in the Gaza Strip, as had Tony Blair, the Quartet envoy.

Abbas has been widely seen to have been sidelined by his rivals in the Islamist movement Hamas, as well by his failure to win any concessions from Israel. Abbas, whose remit does not extend beyond the West Bank, hopes a strong yes vote will persuade Israel to return to talks after more than two years.

Officals in Ramallah have opposed surrendering on the ICC issue so it can be used as a bargaining chip in future, but views are thought to be divided. Abbas said at the weekend: “We are going to the UN fully confident in our steps. We will have our rights because you are with us.”

Leila Shaid, Palestine’s representative to the EU, said: “After everything that has happened in the Arab spring, Britain can’t pretend it is in favour of democracy in Libya, Syria and Egypt but accept the Palestinians continuing to live under occupation. As the former colonial power, Britain has a historic responsibility to Palestine. Britain is a very important country in the Middle East, it has extensive trade relations, and David Cameron should know he risks a popular backlash from Arab public opinion if he does not support us.”

Palestinians have rejected the claim that they are acting unilaterally, calling the UN path “the ultimate expression of multilateralism”. Israel’s apparent opposition to unilateralism has not stopped it acting without agreement to build and expand settlements, they say. © Guardian News and Media 2012
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« Reply #3198 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:14 AM »

Yasser Arafat body exhumed and reburied in six-hour night mission

By Chris McGreal, The Guardian
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:26 EST

Samples taken from corpse of late PLO leader will be used to investigate claims he was poisoned with a radioactive substance

Yasser Arafat was buried eight years ago to a chorus of gunfire before a crowd of thousands amid the rubble of his Ramallah headquarters.

On Tuesday, his corpse was quietly dug up again in the middle of the night, shielded from prying eyes, to test a suspicion that the Palestine Liberation Organisation leader was poisoned with a radioactive substance.

The tests were in part prompted by a French murder inquiry requested by Arafat’s widow. But there’s a good chance they will not provide the answers many Palestinians want to hear. And even if the tests do show he was poisoned, they are also likely to raise unsettling questions many may not want to face.

At Arafat’s funeral in 2004, Palestinians packed the Muqata – the old British administration building that served as his headquarters after his return to the West Bank – and every rooftop within sight as his coffin was navigated through the chanting, shooting crowds, past the rubble left by the Israeli siege to a hastily dug grave site.

The Muqata has been rebuilt, after large parts were destroyed by Israeli tanks, and transformed into a sprawling presidential palace of Jerusalem stone. Arafat’s mausoleum is now a towering quadrangle of limestone and glass, a reflecting pool, and an honour guard.

But all of that was hidden behind large blue tarpaulins, hung to shield the exhumation from outsiders as at around midnight workers began the lengthy process of drilling down through metres of concrete poured over the coffin.

Before dawn, Arafat’s remains were finally reached. A Palestinian doctor and foreign forensic experts looked at the state of the corpse and decided against attempting to remove the whole thing. The Palestinian doctor instead took only samples, which were moved to a mosque where they were prepared for examination by international teams from France, Russia and Switzerland.

This time, the streets and rooftops around the Muqata were abandoned – although that did not mean there was no interest.

Many ordinary Palestinians have long believed Arafat was murdered by Israel, but they are divided over whether that warrants digging him up.

“He should have been left alone,” said Munir Jaara at a coffee shop close to the Muqata. “We all know the Israelis killed him so what’s it going to prove to disturb his body? It’s disrespectful.”

Ghada Nayfeh differed. “We need to find the truth. It was very suspicious how he died, just like that, under siege from the Israelis,” she said.

The speed of Arafat’s death at 75 after a short unexplained illness fed the suspicions of foul play that took hold among Palestinians almost immediately after his funeral even though French officials determined he died at a Paris military hospital from a stroke caused by a blood disorder.

Arafat’s widow, Suha, refused to permit apostmortem examination at the time. But earlier this year she gave some of her late husband’s personal items that were with him when he died, including his toothbrush, underwear and iconic kaffiyeh, to Al Jazeera television which sent them to Switzerland for tests. The Institut de Radiophysique discovered abnormal levels of polonium-210, a radioactive substance linked to the death of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

However, the tests were inconclusive and so Suha Arafat, a French citizen, asked the French government to launch a murder inquiry. The Palestinian Authority, suspicious of Arafat’s widow – who is not a popular figure among Palestinians – and the French and Swiss experts, called in Russian scientists to do separate analysis.

This week, French magistrates have been questioning Palestinian officials who were besieged with Arafat in the Muqata because it’s unlikely the PLO leader’s food or drink could have been poisoned without a collaborator inside the building.

The Israelis had an opportunity to interfere with food deliveries which passed through their checkpoints during the siege. But they had no way of knowing who would be eating what and the fact that there was no mass poisoning inside the Muqata would mean that Arafat’s food was contaminated by someone with direct access to it.

Israel has repeatedly denied killing Arafat and called on the Palestinian leadership to release his medical records, which it has steadfastly refused to do.

Six hours after he was dug up, Arafat was reinterred with the same lack of fanfare. Plans for a ceremony with military honours were called off when it was decided that the samples removed from the coffin did not require a reburial.

© Guardian News and Media 2012
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« Reply #3199 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:17 AM »

November 26, 2012

Savvier, Rebels Shift Tactics in Syria


BEIRUT, Lebanon — At a hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates River on Monday, Syrian rebels relaxed in the operations room, checking a computer screen, sipping tea and projecting confidence after driving off government forces and seizing crates of rocket-propelled grenades. All of this was proudly recorded and quickly uploaded for the world to see.

Swarming the heavily guarded dam was the latest in a monthlong string of tactical successes in which rebels have raided government installations, including numerous air bases, from northern Syria to the suburbs of Damascus. The raids allowed the rebels to boast of their growing effectiveness, undercut the morale of government forces and reinforce their arsenals.

But what they are not necessarily seeking is to hold the bases they hit. Instead, rebels have shifted tactics, fighters and analysts say, seizing outposts, then often abandoning them, to deny government air power a target for retaliation. Rebels say they have learned from recent mistakes, after seizing neighborhoods only to draw devastating airstrikes that killed civilians and alienated supporters. Now, they focus less on conquering territory than on turning a war of attrition to their advantage, forcing the state to bleed.

In the past month, fighters have overrun a half-dozen bases around Damascus, Syria’s capital; two in the country’s eastern oil-producing area; and the largest military installation near the country’s largest city, Aleppo. They have focused on challenging air power, their deadliest foe, by harassing some air bases, ransacking others and seizing antiaircraft weapons.

They are continuing to fight even in areas crucial for the government, like the ring of suburbs around Damascus and the commercial hub of Aleppo and its supply routes.

“Rebels are learning,” said Ahmad Kadour, an activist in Idlib, reached through Skype. When they capture a base, he said, “they take the machinery and the weapons and leave right away, because the regime is always shelling the places it used to control.”

Yet the tactical gains appear unlikely to lead to a sudden shift that collapses the government, analysts say. Rather, they say, a de facto split of Syria is hardening with the government slowly shrinking the area it tries to fully control, a swath that runs from Damascus north along the more-populated western half of the country to Latakia, the ancestral province of President Bashar al-Assad.

The government is still strong in core areas, analysts say, and even when it cedes control of the ground to rebels, as in parts of northern Syria and growing areas of the thinly populated east, it retains, the power to strike from the air. And, analysts warn, even if the army abandons some areas, that could simply open the way to fighting among sectarian and political factions.

Yezid Sayigh, an analyst of Arab military affairs at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said that the loss of bases near Damascus, like the helicopter base that rebels seized on Sunday, is more significant than losses in the rebel-dominated north and isolated northeast, where the army has partly melted away, leaving the reduced forces vulnerable. The government’s main focus is holding Damascus and a corridor northward through the cities of Homs and Hama to coastal Latakia, analysts said.

“By contracting the core areas they seek to defend, regime forces can extend their ability to fight,” Mr. Sayigh said. “And regime forces have not yet lost their ability to escalate the level of violence.”

Still, rebel actions are imperfectly coordinated, and it was unclear whether they planned to hold the Tishreen Dam near Aleppo. It is an important source of electric power and one of two major crossings between Aleppo and the eastern provinces.

Even as they celebrated its capture, there came a reminder of the risks of victory: warplanes bombed the Bab al-Hawa border crossing into Turkey, an area the rebels have controlled since July. The strikes scattered people who had taken shelter there after fleeing their homes elsewhere in Syria, said a fighter in the area who goes by the nickname Abu Zaki.

Tactics have often shifted throughout the conflict, which is approaching the two-year mark. It began as a peaceful protest movement. After security forces fired on demonstrators, sporadic insurgent attacks began. The government pursued pockets of rebels across the country, only to have them pop up again elsewhere. Last summer, the government withdrew to strong points, increasingly relying on air power and artillery to smash areas that rebels had seized.

The rebels have changed their tactics, too. Col. Qassem Saadeddine, the head of the military council of the loose-knit Free Syrian Army rebel umbrella group in Homs, said there was a concerted strategy to attack key bases and withdraw with weaponry. But, he said, where possible, rebels leave guards to prevent troops from using the bases again.

“They just control the areas the tanks stand on,” he said in an interview from Turkey. “The regime is pulling out its forces from the provinces to the capital.”

The rebel victories create opportunities, and dangers, as well.

After they took Base 46, a large base outside Aleppo, rebels won a political victory by restoring power that had been cut in pro-rebel areas. “The heater or the Internet or the TV? — I’m running around confused,” said Najid, an activist in Binnish in Idlib Province. “I wish I could save electricity in boxes or containers, like water.”

But when rebels took over oil fields in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, chaos ensued, with residents siphoning oil without safety precautions and selling it for far less than its value, said an activist there, reached by Skype.

Majed, an activist in Aleppo, was angry that rebels had captured the dam. He doubted they would be able to pay the foreign experts and technicians running it, and feared large regions would lose electricity. Worse, he said, the government might shell it, drowning villages.

“The regime destroyed half the country,” he said. “They won’t stop at a dam.”

Hwaida Saad and Hania Mourtada contributed reporting from Beirut, and Hala Droubi from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
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« Reply #3200 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:18 AM »

November 26, 2012

Japan Is Flexing Its Military Muscle to Counter a Rising China


TOKYO — After years of watching its international influence eroded by a slow-motion economic decline, the pacifist nation of Japan is trying to raise its profile in a new way, offering military aid for the first time in decades and displaying its own armed forces in an effort to build regional alliances and shore up other countries’ defenses to counter a rising China.

Already this year, Japan crossed a little-noted threshold by providing its first military aid abroad since the end of World War II, approving a $2 million package for its military engineers to train troops in Cambodia and East Timor in disaster relief and skills like road building. Japanese warships have not only conducted joint exercises with a growing number of military forces in the Pacific and Asia, but they have also begun making regular port visits to countries long fearful of a resurgence of Japan’s military.

And after stepping up civilian aid programs to train and equip the coast guards of other nations, Japanese defense officials and analysts say, Japan could soon reach another milestone: beginning sales in the region of military hardware like seaplanes, and perhaps eventually the stealthy diesel-powered submarines considered well suited to the shallow waters where China is making increasingly assertive territorial claims.

Taken together those steps, while modest, represent a significant shift for Japan, which had resisted repeated calls from the United States to become a true regional power for fear that doing so would move it too far from its postwar pacifism. The country’s quiet resolve to edge past that reluctance and become more of a player comes as the United States and China are staking their own claims to power in Asia, and as jitters over China’s ambitions appear to be softening bitterness toward Japan among some Southeast Asian countries trampled last century in its quest for colonial domination.

The driver for Japan’s shifting national security strategy is its tense dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that is feeding Japanese anxiety that the country’s relative decline — and the financial struggles of its traditional protector, the United States — are leaving Japan increasingly vulnerable.

“During the cold war, all Japan had to do was follow the U.S.,” said Keiro Kitagami, a special adviser on security issues to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. “With China, it’s different. Japan has to take a stand on its own.”

Japan’s moves do not mean it might transform its military, which serves a purely defensive role, into an offensive force anytime soon. The public has resisted past efforts by some politicians to revamp Japan’s pacifist constitution, and the nation’s vast debt will limit how much military aid it can extend.

But it is also clear that attitudes in Japan are evolving as China continues its double-digit annual growth in military spending and asserts that it should be in charge of the islands that Japan claims, as well as vast swaths of the South China Sea that various Southeast Asian nations say are in their control.

Japanese leaders have met the Chinese challenge over the islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China with an uncharacteristic willingness to push back, and polls show the public increasingly agrees. Both major political parties are also talking openly about instituting a more flexible reading of the constitution that would allow Japan to come to the defense of allies — shooting down any North Korean missile headed for the United States, for instance — blurring the line between an offensive and defensive force.

The country’s self-defense forces had already begun nosing over that line in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Japan backed the United States-led campaigns by deploying naval tankers to refuel warships in the Indian Ocean.

Japanese officials say their strategy is not to begin a race for influence with China, but to build up ties with other nations that share worries about their imposing neighbor. They acknowledge that even building the capacity of other nations’ coast guards is a way of strengthening those countries’ ability to stand up to any Chinese threat.

“We want to build our own coalition of the willing in Asia to prevent China from just running over us,” said Yoshihide Soeya, director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at Keio University in Tokyo.

Or, as the vice minister of defense, Akihisa Nagashima, said in an interview, “We cannot just allow Japan to go into quiet decline.”

The United States has generally welcomed such efforts by Japan, which are in line with its own strategy of building up Asian nations militarily so they can stand their ground against China, as well as expanding an American military presence in the region.

China, which itself suffered mightily in imperial Japan’s 20th-century territorial grabs, has reacted with warnings that Japan is trying to overturn the outcome of World War II by staging a military comeback. At a defense conference in Australia last month, Lt. Gen. Ren Haiquan of China warned his hosts against allying more closely with what he called a fascist nation that once bombed the Australian city of Darwin.

In a measure of the geopolitical changes roiling the region, however, concerns about any resurgent Japanese militarism appear to be fading in some countries embroiled in their own territorial disputes with China, like Vietnam and the Philippines, the scene of fierce fighting during the war.

Analysts there and elsewhere in the region said their countries welcomed, and sometimes invited, Japan’s help.

“We have already put aside our nightmares of World War II because of the threat posed by China,” said Rommel Banlaoi, a security expert at the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research in Manila.

On a recent morning, 22 coast guard officials from a dozen Asian and African nations joined a training cruise around Tokyo Bay aboard a sleek, white Japanese Coast Guard cutter. The visitors snapped photos of the engine room, the electronics-studded bridge and the 20-millimeter cannon. Before the cutter left port, the foreign contingent and the Japanese crew stood at attention on deck facing each other, then bowed deeply.

“Japan is joining the United States and Australia in helping us face China,” said Mark Lim, an administrative officer from the Philippine Coast Guard who joined the cruise.

Japan is widely viewed as being the only nation in the region with a navy powerful enough to check China.

Although Japan’s military spending has been shrinking, the military budget is, by many measures, the sixth largest in the world. In keeping with its pacifist stance, Japan has none of the long-range missiles, nuclear submarines or large aircraft carriers necessary for projecting real power. But its diesel-powered subs are considered the best of their type in the world. The Japanese Navy also has sophisticated Aegis-equipped cruisers capable of shooting down ballistic missiles, and two large helicopter-carrying destroyers that could be retrofitted to carry fighter jets that can take off vertically.

The Japanese Navy took a big step toward opening up in 2009 by holding a joint military drill with Australia — its first such exercise with a nation besides the United States. It has since joined a number of multinational naval drills in Southeast Asia, and in June held its first joint maneuver with India.

Analysts and former officials say Japan’s military has so far been careful to offer assistance in noncombat-related areas like disaster relief, antipiracy and health care. But even these limited steps build ties between military forces. One plan now under negotiation is to train medical personnel from Vietnam’s navy next year to care for the crews on that nation’s newly purchased Russian-built submarines.

“Our strategy is to offer hardware and training to create mini-Japanese coast guards and mini-Japanese Self-Defense Forces around the South China Sea,” said Tetsuo Kotani, a researcher at the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo.

Under the decade-old civilian aid program to build up regional coast guards, Japanese officials say they are in the final stages of what would be their biggest security-related aid package yet — to provide the Philippine Coast Guard with 10 cutters worth about $12 million each. Ministry officials say they may offer similar ships to Vietnam.

Japan’s Ministry of Defense said it planned to double its military aid program next year to help Indonesia and Vietnam. Vietnam could also be among the countries that Japan would allow to buy its submarines, according to a former defense minister, Toshimi Kitazawa, who named Australia and Malaysia as other possible buyers.

“Japan has been insensitive to the security needs of its regional neighbors,” Mr. Kitazawa said in a recent interview. “We can offer much to increase their peace of mind.”
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« Reply #3201 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:21 AM »

November 27, 2012

North Korea Suspected of Planning Rocket Test


SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has stepped up what could be preparations to launch a new rocket from its northwestern launch station in defiance of a United Nations ban, the satellite operator DigitalGlobe said on Tuesday, citing recent satellite imagery of the facility.

The increased activities at North Korea’s Sohae Space Launch Station came months after its Unha-3 rocket, launched from the same site in April, disintegrated shortly after takeoff and failed to put what North Korea claimed was a scientific satellite into orbit.

The United States and its allies condemned it as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions that banned North Korea from testing technology that could be used to develop long-range ballistic missiles.

The April launch led to the collapse of a February deal under which Washington promised to ship humanitarian aid in return for the North’s agreement to suspend nuclear and missile tests, uranium enrichment and allow United Nations monitors back into its main nuclear complex. North Korea has since vowed to continue to launch rockets carrying satellites.

In a post on its Web site, DigitalGlobe cited satellite imagery taken last Friday to report "a marked increase in activity" at the North Korean launch site on the North’s west coast near China.

"This activity is consistent with launch preparations” before the failed April launching, it said. "Given the observed level of activity noted of a new tent, trucks, people and numerous portable fuel/oxidizer tanks — should North Korea desire — it could possibly conduct its fifth satellite launch event during the next three weeks."

North Korea, which carried out nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, considers itself a nuclear power. But there is doubt over its ability to deliver a nuclear payload atop its ballistic missiles. Since 1998, it has launched several long-range rockets, which Washington considered a cover for testing long-range missile technology. They all exploded in midair or failed in their stated purpose of putting satellites into orbit.

The activities at the North Korean launch site come as South Korea is preparing for a presidential election on Dec. 19. Japan is also scheduled to hold legislative elections e election on Dec. 16 and President Obama will be inaugurated for his second term in January.

In the past, when there were changes of governments in the region, North Korea has often tried to draw attention to its nuclear and missile threats in a tactic that analysts believed was aimed at forcing the new governments to engage Pyongyang and possibly offer concessions. In the past, North Korea was also accused of using military provocations to influence elections in the South.

Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported last week that American intelligence analysts had detected moves that were seen as preparations for a long-range rocket launch by North Korea. It said that cargo that appeared to be missile parts was transported in early November from a weapons factory in Pyongyang to an assembly plant at the missile launch base, commonly known as Tongchang-ri, e the town where it is located.

Earlier this month, 38 North, a Web site affiliated with the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, cited satellite imagery that it said indicated that North Korea has been testing rocket engines there.

Both Washington and Seoul said they were closely watching the site, and urged the North to refrain from testing long-range missiles.
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« Reply #3202 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:27 AM »

Elections in Catalonia: Victory of the status quo

26 November 2012
La Vanguardia Barcelona

The early regional elections of November 25 marked a decline in the party of Catalonian President Artur Mas, which had focused on winning an absolute majority in order to organise a referendum on independence for the region. In the end, it was the ruling order which prevailed.
Enric Juliana

The Catalan regional elections were won by Spain. To put it in a more orthodox and precise way, it's the Spanish status quo that won.

The victor has been the ruling order, despite growing disorder throughout the country. The order that has been established in Spain for a very long time. That is going to be very difficult to understanding, accept, and digest, for a large portion of Catalan society, which still make up a clear sovereigntist majority – albeit a sentimental one.

However, the hard reality will take hold as the days, weeks and months go by. The Alpha Party (Partido Popular) of the Spanish middle class, despite the serious challenges posed by the crisis, still has its grip on the steering wheel.

True, there is a sovereigntist majority in the new parliament, which in the coming weeks may produce a coalition government in favour of independence. Convergència i Unió (CiU) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) together hold 71 seats, which is more than enough to cobble together a stable executive, leaving them free to make holding a sovereignty referendum a central plank of their programmes. CiU, despite the whipping it has taken, still enjoys the tactical advantage of being able to sound out another majority government with the Socialists, for a total of 70 deputies.

It could even negotiate PP support for some issues, with the two having 69 seats in total. However the government is formed, CiU will be in it, and if this leads to parliamentary deadlock, new elections could be held in the not too distant future.

Partit de Catalunya

Deeply wounded, the CiU remains the "pal de paller", [the cornerstone] of the nationalist movement. It continues to be the most genuine political voice of the suffering Catalan middle classes. It is still the "Partit de Catalunya", Catalan for Party of Catalonia.

Accordingly, the majority in favour of a referendum on sovereignty goes beyond the sum of the seats for the strongest and second-strongest parties. And the separatist majority, broadly speaking, is still enormous. Nothing will happen in Catalonia in the near future that will truly rock the existing order. Work will be done on forming a stable coalition, approving budgets and governing a huge administrative apparatus that depends on monthly transfers from the Ministry of Finance.

True, the foreign press, especially the British press, is taking a very different reading of the election results than the press in Madrid, where Catalan politics will be radically mocked. The Anglo-Saxons say that a separatist majority, blown to the political left by the crisis, has won in Catalonia. And what will be stressed in the capital of Spain, with no holds barred, will be the failure of Artur Mas.

Perhaps the Anglo-Saxon reading is the more lucid, in European terms, but the truth is that the victor of the Catalan elections has been Spain.

Divided groups

The existing order has won because, despite all its harshness and the "compromising materials" [referring to an article in El Mundo which alleged the family of Artur Mas held Swiss bank accounts] used to frighten the enemy, it is objectively a stronger group. Catalan society despite yearning for a new order, is not united. Catalan independence groups today are a sentimental majority that, when it comes to political realities, find themselves in grave difficulties.

Catalonia is not Holland, which is also highly fragmented politically. When the haggling over the formation of the new government gets underway in a few weeks, its will be perfectly clear who wants to be part of this new executive, forced to make tough sacrifices.

Spain certainly has a problem: a galloping crisis and two sovereigntist parliaments (the Basque and the Catalan), but it is a problem that can be managed. The Basques will do nothing that could truly endanger the positive fiscal balance of an advantageous charter of autonomy, and Catalonia, trapped by the sentimental rhetoric of independence, will become a wasps' nest. Spain comes out the winner. The status quo has triumphed.

Reactions: “Political suicide” for Artur Mas

The results of the Catalan regional elections of November 25 are “political suicide” for the President of the Catalan government, Artur Mas, who had called early elections. This is the conclusion of Enric Hernández, director of Periódico de Catalunya, for whom the “overwhelming majority” asked for by Mas to back a referendum on Catalan independence has been undermined:

    After the march on the National Day of Catalonia [September 11, when hundreds of thousands of Catalans came out to call for independence], the president was too quick to count the protesters as if they were all potential voters for the CiU [his centre-right nationalist party]. Placing himself at the head of the sovereigntist claim, he believed, would let him hide the [budget] cuts behind the sovereigntist flag through early elections, and come out of those elections with a comfortable four-year term, and hoping that the crisis would die down before 2016. He assigned himself the messianic role of the great helmsman who would steer Catalonia to the paradise of 'our own state'. He has been wrong in everything.

Mas must now put together a coalition with other political forces. The possible referendum and even his own future depends on which party he chooses, Hernández continues:

    Mas is facing a difficult dilemma: choose a headlong flight with the ERC [nationalist, left] towards sovereignty and government of the region – and lose the funding from Madrid; or ask for the support of the [socialist] PSC or PP [Popular Party, in power in Madrid] – and forget his independence bid.


11/27/2012 12:45 PM

The World from Berlin: 'EU's Catalonian Headache Has Not Disappeared'

Regional elections in Catalonia over the weekend left the Spanish region's push for indepedence in a state of suspended animation. A majority of voters support secession, but cannot decide which party is best equipped to govern the state. German commentators say that the confusion is not good for Spain or Catalonia.

"The people have spoken and now the situation is clearer and more complicated." That was the assessment of Artur Mas, leader of the Catalonian separatist party Convergence and Union (CiU), after the votes were counted following weekend elections in the north-eastern Spanish region. A glance at the results makes it difficult to argue.

On the one hand, it is clear that a majority of voters in the region, which includes Spain's second-largest city of Barcelona, would like to see a referendum held on independence. But they disagree on which separatist party is best equipped to run the region. In total, almost two-thirds of the seats in regional parliament were won by political parties that are in favor of a referendum on the region's secession from Spain. But the 87 seats went to four different secessionist parties, with the two largest, CiU and the Republican Left, bitterly opposed to each other.

As such, for any referendum to go forward, the two parties would likely have to form a coalition. But that doesn't seem possible for the moment. Indeed, even analysts seemed confused by the vote's outcome. "Right now, we are not sure about the state of the Catalan independence process," Angel Rivero Rodriguez, a political science professor at the Autonomous University in Madrid, told the Associated Press. "We don't know if this new situation is going to accelerate the process or hide it again indefinitely."

The vote took place against the looming backdrop of Spain's economic woes and financial uncertainty. Unemployment in the country is at 25 percent and Catalonia had long been one of the country's most economically successful regions. Indeed, the secessionist movement has been fuelled by a feeling in Catalonia that it pays more in taxes to Madrid than it receives in government services. In addition, money from rich regions in Spain is distributed to poorer regions in a system that some deem to be unfair. More recently, however, Catalonia has gone deeply into debt and needed a €5.4 billion bailout from Madrid not long ago.

CiU leader Mas, who is also head of the regional government, has pursued a course of austerity in recent months, which has hurt his popularity. While his party won 50 seats in the 135 member Catalonian legislature, it lost 12 seats from the last election. The central government in Madrid has been adamantly opposed to the separatist movement and there is some doubt about its legality under the Spanish constitution.

German commentators take a closer look at the election result on Tuesday.

Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The main reason for the collapse in support for Mas' party is not the rigid austerity program that he introduced two years ago to reduce the mountain of debt he inherited from his center-left predecessors. Rather, his voters were afraid of the Europe question: Would Catalonia have to leave the European Union and the euro zone were it to become independent? Mas didn't have a clear answer to that question."

"Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, however, did have an answer. He would like to block independence for Catalonia, a region with both tourism and industry…. The horror scenario he painted for an independent Catalonia proved to be quite useful. He said that the region would suffer an economic collapse outside of the EU and the middle class would slide into poverty. And Rajoy was supported by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who stated clearly that every new state must go through the same EU accession process."

"Mas found no answer to this Europe dilemma, particularly given the complete lack of support from European leaders for his march to independence. And the overwhelming majority of Catalonians, even if they want to secede from Spain, want to remain a part of the EU."

Center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The vote in Catalonia does not do anything to deflate the independence debate. Radical powers were strengthened and the fragmentation of the political landscape was not stopped. Mas lost, a result of his austerity policies. But any effort to form a coalition with the Republican Left will have to include a secessionist plank. As such, Rajoy's Catalonian headache has not disappeared. And the EU's headache remains as well."

Business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"After the populist noisemaking in recent weeks, it is time for Catalonian politicians to return to economic reality. "Back to the beginning," should be the motto. The trigger for the escalation between Madrid and Barcelona were Catalonian demands for a reform of the model according to which rich Spanish states like Catalonia transfer money to poor Spanish states. It was only after the categorical 'no' from Rajoy that regional leader Mas plunged into the secessionist debate."

"There is broad consensus in Spain that a fundamental reform of the system … is necessary. But such a reform is difficult to push through in the middle of a euro-debt crisis in which regional and central governments are fighting for every tenth of a percent in the ratio of budget deficit to gross domestic product."

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"On the day after elections in Catalonia, it was clear that the divide which runs through Spain is deeper than ever before. At first glance, it looked as though Catalonian leader Artur Mas was punished for his push for independence, as though the voters, in their fear of being pushed out of the European Union, had opted for moderation. The election results, however, demonstrate the opposite. Radicalization has increased on both sides."

"Mas acted irresponsibly. He was never a trailblazer on the path to Catalonian independence, but he nevertheless wanted to push through a revolution in just two months -- primarily in order to distract attention from his terrible crisis management. It has become something of a pattern in poor Spain."

-- Charles Hawley
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« Reply #3203 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:30 AM »

UN passes first resolution condeming female genital mutilation

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 26, 2012 20:03 EST

UNITED NATIONS — The UN General Assembly on Monday passed its first resolution condemning female genital mutilation, which opponents say more than 140 million women worldwide have had to endure.

Though outlawed in most nations, the measure represents the first time the traditional practice in African and Middle East nations has been denounced at such a high level in the United Nations.

More than 110 countries, including more than 50 African nations, co-sponsored the resolution in the General Assembly’s rights committee, which called on states to “complement punitive measures with awareness-raising and educational activities” to eliminate female genital mutilation.

About 140 million women worldwide are believed to have been subjected to the practice in which a young girl’s clitoris and labia are removed, in the belief that this will reduce libido and keep a woman chaste. About three million women and girls each year are said to be forced to undergo the procedure.

“We will continue to spare no efforts with a final objective: ending female genital mutilations in one generation. Today, this goal appears closer than ever,” said Cesare Ragaglini, UN ambassador for Italy, which has played a leading role in international efforts to eradicate the practice.

He called the UN resolution a “powerful tool” against widespread resistance because it would take condemnation and calls for new measures to another level.

“It is up to us now to exploit it in a more effective way,” Ragaglini said.
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« Reply #3204 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:32 AM »

Scientists warn world’s poorest countries increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters

By Mark Tran, The Guardian
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:19 EST

Sir John Beddington says governments must act in face of climate change, more older people and rapid urbanisation

Ageing populations and urbanisation could leave the world’s poorest countries increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters, the UK’s chief scientific adviser warned on Tuesday.

“Vulnerability will go soaring,” said Sir John Beddington. “Extreme events will happen every five years instead of every 20. Vulnerability will come from changing climate, demography and most people living in cities.”

Sir John spoke after the release of a government report, Reducing risks of future disaster, which calls for risk reduction to be routinely built into urban infrastructure, ecosystem protection and mobile telephone regulation, for example. Such measures would help reduce the cost of disasters, which has outstripped international aid over the past 20 years and led to the loss of 1.3 million lives and caused $2 trillion of damage.

Between 2010 and 2040, the number of people over 65 in less developed countries is projected to nearly triple, from 325 million to 948 million. In emergencies, older people are a vulnerable group, although they may have skills and experience that enable them to cope.

Eight out of the 10 most populous cities in the world are at risk of being severely affected by an earthquake, and six out of 10 are vulnerable to storm surge and tsunami waves. The urban population in developing countries is projected to rise by 65 million a year from 2.6 billion in 2010 to around 4.7 billion in 2040.

“The speed of urbanisation in developing countries means that the future vulnerability and exposure of cities will be disproportionately important. Urban design and planning that both improves the quality of life for residents and makes expanding cities resilient to natural hazards is therefore a key priority,” said the report.

Earthquakes in megacities pose a major threat, as does flooding for many cities in coastal areas. Despite advances in forecasting, preparing for earthquakes will be a challenge as both their timing and severity are difficult to forecast.

Nevertheless, scientific advances in the understanding of natural disasters can be expected to continue in the next decades. How fast and how far such improvements will take place is uncertain, said the report, but if progress continues at the current rate, there will be increasingly reliable forecasts identifying the timing and location of some future natural hazards.

“Together progress in these areas will improve the forecasting of disaster risk and provide opportunities for effective disaster risk reduction, provided that those who need to take action have ready access to the information,” said the report.

It recommended governments emulate the approach of the insurance industry in using science-based risk models to take a wide range of data from a wide range of sources to calculate where risks come from and what weight to put on them.

“Natural disasters hit those in the developing world particularly hard. But the developed world is not immune, as we saw with Hurricane Sandy in the US and the Caribbean last month,” said Justine Greening, the secretary for international development. “Resilience is about boosting a country’s ability to deal with disasters – whether it is helping people in earthquake zones build to withstand shocks or helping poor farmers to grow drought-resistant crops. Reducing the impact of natural disasters saves money, lives and livelihoods, especially in developing countries.”

Only 1% of overseas development aid was spent on disaster risk reduction from 2000 to 2009. The report is part of the government’s response to Lord Ashdown’s Humanitarian Emergency Response Review commissioned by the Department for International Development, released last year.

© Guardian News and Media 2012
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« Reply #3205 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:33 AM »

Kyoto battlelines drawn as Doha climate talks dig into detail

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:13 EST

Climate talks got down to the nitty-gritty in Doha on Tuesday as developing countries and the European Union (EU) staked out rival positions on the fate of the Kyoto Protocol.

Separately, the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) urged negotiators to heed the risk from melting permafrost, which could spew billions of tonnes of greenhouses gases into the air and accelerate global warming at a stroke.

Pressing on the key issue at the 12-day annual parlay which began on Monday, poorer countries called on the EU to shore up the Kyoto Protocol, a beleaguered and contested treaty on climate change.

“Together we face a man-made disaster of epic proportions,” said Marlene Moses of the Pacific island of Nauru, heading the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) which are vulnerable to rising seas.

“The Kyoto Protocol must not be an exercise in creative accounting or a public relations exercise,” Moses said.

“Commitments must be real, and must deliver effective (carbon) emissions reductions.”

The talks are taking place under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an arena set up 20 years ago at the Earth Summit.

Heading the agenda in Qatar is the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s sole binding pact for curbing carbon emissions.

The protocol, whose first commitment period runs out on December 31, currently commits about 40 rich nations and the EU to an average five percent greenhouse gas reduction from 1990 levels.

Developing countries say Kyoto is vital for meeting the UN’s target of pegging global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a goal that on current trends will be dramatically missed.

Critics, though, say Kyoto is ineffective, as China and the US, the world’s No. 1 and 2 carbon emitters, are not included in the binding targets.

Securing a second round of Kyoto pledges would clear a major hurdle towards a wider, global treaty that would be sealed in 2015 and take effect in 2020.

But delegation statements on Tuesday highlighted differences over how long the next commitment period should last and how big the carbon cuts should be.

Moses said the post-2012 commitment period should run for five years and rich parties should present “ambitious targets that are consistent with the challenge.”

The five-year timescale was also backed by the bloc of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), comprising the poorest economies.

“The Kyoto Protocol remains the cornerstone of the international climate regime,” said China, speaking for the so-called BASIC group, which also includes Brazil, India and South Africa.

“We urge developed country parties to Kyoto Protocol to raise their level of ambition in Doha, consistent with what is required by the science and their historical responsibility.”

But the EU stood by an eight-year commitment period and — in a veiled appeal to the emerging giants to do more — said the period should be seen “as a floor, not as a ceiling.”

The 27-nation EU has unilaterally promised to scale back emissions by 20 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, and extend this to 30 percent if other major polluters follow suit.

No-one, though, has taken up the offer.

Along with the EU, Australia and some small Kyoto parties have said they would take on commitments in a second period, but New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Russia will not.

The United States, historically the world’s biggest carbon emitter, signed Kyoto as a framework agreement in 1997, but refused to ratify it after its rulebook had been agreed.

Meanwhile, a report by UNEP warned that climate talks had to factor in the threat from melting permafrost, where vast quantities of carbon gases, from vegetation that died millions of years ago, are locked up in ice.

“Its potential impact on the climate, ecosystems and infrastructure has been neglected for too long,” warned UNEP excutive director Achim Steiner.

Warming permafrost could emit 43-135 billion tonnes of carbon by 2100 and 246-415 billion tonnes by 2200, the study said.
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« Reply #3206 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:35 AM »

11/26/2012 06:01 PM

Failed CO2 Targets: Going Through the Motions in Doha

The United Nations Climate Change Conference beginning in Doha this week is turning into a farce. While negotiators are sticking to the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, even climatologists admit that the project has failed.

Protecting the climate is incredibly important to Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, as evidenced by all the resolutions it has adopted in the past to save the planet. Germany has climate funds and reduction targets, building and transportation programs, and even an entire strategy to wean itself off nuclear power and shift to green energy, which has been dubbed the Energiewende, or "energy revolution." But at some point there is such a thing as overkill.

Can a member of parliament be expected to be chauffeured around Berlin in a small car? Or should he even stoop to the level of taking a cab? Now that, the Bundestag recently decided, would be asking too much. But because the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the elegant limousines normally used to chauffeur German lawmakers exceeds standards set three years ago, the Bundestag came up with a convenient solution. They simply raised the previously established limit of 120 grams of CO2 per kilometer to 140.

And what about the fact that the European Commission in Brussels has been fighting for months to set the limit at 95 grams? Forget it! And the climate? Oh, that again.

Only a few years ago, lawmakers would have hardly dared raise the limits for allowable greenhouse gas emissions coming from their official cars. They would have been too worried about upsetting climate activists and triggering outraged editorials in the papers.

But things have changed, so much so that the Bundestag's decision hardly attracted any notice in the press, and neither did the government's decision to eliminate a rule requiring official trips to be climate-neutral. As mundane as these decisions seem, they symbolize a significant failure, namely that no issue of global urgency has tanked quite as quickly as the warming of the earth's climate.

A Bizarre Ritual

What was seen as a question of man's survival not too long ago is little more than a side note today. Even forest dieback, the great bugaboo of the 1980s, did not suffer a comparable plunge into irrelevance.

This only amplifies the bizarrely ritualistic nature of the Climate Change Conference starting this week in Doha, Qatar. Thousands of negotiators, environmentalists and industry lobbyists are meeting in the Arab emirate to set the course for an international treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

But the world has already turned its back on the issue. And if that weren't unnerving enough, the attendees from 195 countries will be debating a project that everyone suspects is no longer achievable: the 2-degree target.

It remains a mantra for saving the climate that the earth's temperature curve cannot be allowed to climb any further than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Climatologists have calculated how much carbon dioxide emissions from cars, chimneys and fields can increase without jeopardizing the 2-degree target. If we fail in this mission, at least according to their computer models, life on the planet will become intolerable.

But a look at their calculations reveals that limiting the earth's warming to 2 degrees Celsius is no longer realistic. Our thirst for energy is too enormous and our efforts to wean ourselves off fossil fuels have been too insignificant.

Instead of declining, emissions continue to rise year after year. If nothing changes, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) predicted last week, global carbon emissions will increase to about 58 gigatons by 2020 -- much more than the 44 gigatons necessary to adhere to the 2-degree target.

According to the 2011 World Energy Outlook published by the International Energy Agency (IEA), global fossil fuel subsidies jumped 30 percent to $523 billion (€403 billion) last year. Although countries are spending more and more on renewable energy, subsidies for coal, oil and gas are still six times as high. About 1,200 new coal-fired power plants are planned worldwide, and even Germany generated more electricity from coal in the first nine months of this year than it has in a long time.

Unwilling to Admit Defeat

In times of crisis, burning fossil fuels helps industry, while the climate must wait. According to a study by the research institute Oxford Economics, almost all key producers of greenhouse gas are spending decreasing amounts on saving the planet. Crisis-ridden Spain plans to cut €3.8 billion ($4.9 billion) from its climate protection budget by 2015, Great Britain will reduce spending by €3.1 billion, and even Germany is cutting climate-related spending by €1.5 billion. When ranked by how much it spends on climate protection as a percentage of total spending, the United States comes in last.

Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist in Paris, isn't the only one who sees the 2-degree target as a "nice utopia" -- well-intentioned, but unfortunately totally unrealistic.

But hardly anyone is about to admit it. Climate activists won't admit it, because they're afraid that without strict targets, no government can be compelled to reduce emissions. And neither will politicians in Germany and Europe, because they're the ones who injected the 2-degree target into the global debate in the first place. "If we don't reach the target, it will get a lot more expensive for many of us than we can imagine today," warns European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard.

That's why Jochem Marotzke, director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, is being courageous when he says: "Although physically speaking it is still possible to reach the 2-degree target, it seems to me that it's hardly feasible politically." He thinks it's more realistic to limit global warming to 3 degrees Celsius. "Even that, of course, would be associated with massive efforts worldwide," he adds.

Marotzke knows what he is talking about. He is the chairman of the German Climate Consortium and one of Germany's top climatologists. He has had the computers at his institute calculate what would be necessary to comply with the 2-degree target: Worldwide CO2 emissions would have to consistently decline by 1 percent a year, starting in 2020, to end up at almost zero by the end of the century.

That would require a carbon-free global economy, in which no more oil or gas is burned anywhere on the planet, and in which all cars operate without fossil fuel and aircraft fly without kerosene. Is this realistic? Marotzke doesn't think so. "In general, this raises the issue of whether it's good policy to proclaim unachievable goals," he says.

Other Priorities

But his voice will probably remain unheard in Doha. The countries will still talk about the 2-degree target, but they will hardly follow their talk with action. On the contrary, while Europe's crisis-ridden countries are rediscovering classic industrial policy, emerging economies like China and India are turning into emissions giants.

China, for example, is responsible for 29 percent of worldwide, energy-related CO2 emissions, and it's also the world's biggest air polluter. But the leadership in Beijing doesn't like this superlative, preferring to cite a different number, which shows that per capita, the 1.4 billion Chinese are responsible for only a fraction of what Americans and most Europeans emit.

Whatever a climate compromise looks like in the end, it will have to be characterized by "fairness, common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities," said Xie Zhenhua, the head of Beijing's delegation, when he presented his strategy for the Doha climate conference last Wednesday. What he meant was that emissions reductions are ok, but everyone else should start first.

The Indians hold the same view. Although their delegation fundamentally voted for a reduction in greenhouse gases at the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban last year, India has a price for that, which it will also present to the European Union in Doha: financial assistance and the transfer of environmental technology.

The United States also has other priorities. At the first press conference after his reelection, President Barack Obama fundamentally acknowledged the importance of climate protection. But then he promptly added that this could not get in the way of the anticipated economic recovery. "Jobs and growth" are Americans' biggest concern, said the president. "If the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don't think anybody's going to go for that. I won't go for that," he added.

For many years, at least the citizens of the EU could feel good about playing in the league of climate rescuers. At a number of UN conferences, the EU pushed forward with ambitious goals.

Of course, little of that will be in evidence in Doha. Originally, the EU had planned to commit itself to considerably tougher reduction targets for greenhouse gas. But Poland, a significant coal producer, was the first to thwart the plan. European Commissioner Hedegaard now admits that it is no longer feasible in the short term.

'Far Too Little Is Happening'
The UN's most important tool in the fight against climate change, emissions trading, has turned into a problem child instead. Recently the price of a ton of carbon dioxide sporadically fell below €7 -- a joke for the managers of many a major company. The head of the German Federal Environment Agency, Jochen Flasbarth, vacillates between despair and resignation: "I don't see that anyone within the EU is noticeably applying pressure or proposing any good solutions."

This wasn't always the case. But Germany, once a trailblazer, has too many other problems at the moment. Although the country is attracting a lot of attention worldwide with its Energiewende experiment, politicians and environmental groups doubt that the climate is the government's main motivation. "For now, the Energiewende is really just a power generation turnaround," says Merkel's fellow Christian Democrat Klaus Töpfer, a former environment minister. "If we don't want to question our climate goals, we do have to address the issues of warming, mobility and energy efficiency just as resolutely. Far too little is happening in this regard."

In fact, Economics Minister Philipp Rösler, a member of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), has successfully blocked his own government's climate policy goals for months. On Friday, Environment Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) looked visibly miffed when he told the press: "I would like to see Germany hold onto its pioneering role in climate protection." He defiantly announced the revival of emissions trading, but Rösler promptly contradicted him, saying that he would not go along with further burdens on industry.

The federal government was already expecting emissions trading to generate at least €2 billion in revenue for its Special Energy and Climate Fund in 2013. According to internal Finance Ministry calculations, that number will likely decline by €750 million -- money that will no longer be available for domestic and international climate protection projects. This upsets Altmaier, who is traveling empty-handed to Doha, where he is already scheduled to spend only two days. So far he has waited in vain for support from Merkel in his dispute with Rösler. That too speaks volumes, says Green Party climate policy expert Hermann Ott. "There's nothing left of Angela Merkel the self-proclaimed climate chancellor."

More Practical Solutions Needed

Despite all this, no politician in Germany, touted as a model country on environmental matters, is willing to back away from the 2-degree target. "It's about saving face," says Oliver Geden, a climate expert with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. That's why the Germans are resorting to methods that auditors would probably characterize as an accounting trick.

This is how the trick works: You allow temperatures to shoot up by more than 2 degrees Celsius at around the middle of the century. Then you reduce greenhouse gas emissions to such an extent that the planet's temperature curve falls below the magic limit of 2 degrees above current levels by 2100. Practically speaking, no climatologist will be alive to experience that day, which makes it easy to reach such a resolution, which insiders refer to as "overshooting."

Climatologists are also discussing ideas to filter greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere or to cool the planet artificially. One idea that was seriously considered was to blow sulfur dioxide through 25-kilometer (16-mile) tubes into the stratosphere, where it would reflect sunlight. In July, a US entrepreneur dumped 100 tons of iron sulfate into waters off the Canadian island of Haida Gwaii, in the misguided hope that global warming could be stopped by artificially accelerating algae growth.

Instead of science fiction, climate expert Geden prefers to call for realpolitik. "The 2-degree target has to be dropped as soon as possible," says the policy advisor, noting that a phantom discussion merely blurs our ability to recognize pragmatic solutions.

It would be more intelligent for cities and industrial sectors to join forces, and for countries to form alliances to develop climate-friendly technology. This would be better for the planet than producing yet another stack of draft resolutions, Geden says.

At least climate policy experts have chosen the ideal backdrop for their washout in Doha. The host country Qatar is the global leader on one climate issue: The oil sheikdom on the Persian Gulf has the world's highest per-capital emissions of CO2.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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« Reply #3207 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:36 AM »

11/26/2012 05:55 PM

Waiting for Obama: Hope Not Enough in Battle against Climate Change

A Commentary by Oliver Geden

In the search for a negotiated agreement to combat global climate change, US domestic politics play an outsized role. But even if President Barack Obama unexpectedly pushes emissions reduction legislation through Congress, the resulting treaty would still have to be ratified. Such a process would take too much time -- and it is time we don't have.

Two decades after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, international climate policy remains an unfulfilled promise. Since the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, global greenhouse gas emissions have risen by one-third. In light of these sobering figures, it is astonishing to find that the principle of hope still prevails in climate policy.

At last year's climate summit in Durban, 194 states once again agreed to make everything better in the future. Europeans succeeded in pushing through a schedule for negotiations intended ultimately to produce a comprehensive and ambitious world climate agreement. The Durban declarations envisaged the adoption of a global climate treaty by the end of 2015 and its entry into force in 2020. It would include reduction targets for countries that had previously blocked international climate protection agreements, such as India, China, and the USA, and a 2 degree Celsius limit on the global temperature increase. But at the beginning of the 2012 climate summit in Doha/Qatar, it is already clear that this plan will fail.

One of the most serious weaknesses of the negotiation process is the overdependence on US domestic politics. Despite President Barack Obama's re-election, fundamental change is not about to come. The president is likely to maintain his previous position: that the US will only be able to commit to emissions reductions in the UN context after the level of these commitments has been set down in national climate legislation. In 2010, an attempt to pass such a law failed despite a comfortable Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress.

Waiting in Vain

At the present moment, it is almost inconceivable that a renewed legislative effort could achieve a successful outcome. Despite losing the presidential election, Republicans defended their majority in the House of Representatives. And the issue of climate change remains one of the major dividing lines in US politics, a constellation largely unaffected by Hurricane Sandy. But even if the US government should, contrary to all expectations, agree to a comprehensive global treaty in 2015, the world would still be faced with a ratification marathon that would last at least five years. And at that point, if a two-thirds majority cannot be reached to ratify the agreement in the US Senate, all the waiting will have been in vain.

Even under the optimistic assumptions that a comprehensive global climate treaty can be concluded and ratified by 2020 and that the signatory states will feel bound to comply with it over the long term, the central objective of international climate policy is still destined to fail. Limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius would already require decreasing global greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent over the next eight years, before having to implement even more dramatic reductions in 2020 and adhere to them consistently for decades.

The current trend in global emissions points in the opposite direction. And the current negotiation roadmap is not creating incentives for emissions reductions. While waiting for UN summits to produce a "grand solution", many governments and companies will use the absence of a global treaty as a convenient excuse to justify their lack of ambition. Should the decisive world climate conference in 2015 fail, then political consequences will be far-reaching. Willingness to pursue global cooperation will decline drastically. Merely adapting to the inevitable could become the dominant strategy. The US and China would be encouraged to focus on methods of technical climate manipulation, the approach of geo-engineering.

Dubious Hopes of an Epochal Breakthrough

Europe cannot have any interest in this outcome, since it would mean losing its edge in the development of low-emissions technologies. It would therefore be very risky to tie the EU's climate policy to dubious hopes of an epochal breakthrough in international climate negotiations.

What is needed now is a new sense of pragmatism. Europeans are faced, first and foremost, with the practical task of demonstrating that a de-carbonization strategy is indeed technologically and economically feasible under present-day conditions and that this can be beneficial not only for climate protection but for energy security as well. Second, they will have to focus their efforts internationally on designing a much more flexible climate policy architecture. Where global agreements cannot be achieved, European countries should aspire to "coalitions of the committed" and sector-specific agreements with as many participants, incentives, and sanctions as needed to achieve concrete gains.

The major argument against pragmatic approaches in climate policy is that they are inadequate to address the severe future consequences of climate change, that they lack in vision and that they fail to acknowledge the UN's central role. All these arguments are ultimately rooted in the narrow pursuit of an "optimal" solution to the problem. After two decades of largely unsuccessful climate negotiations, it is time to think about alternative paths. In limiting climate change, it is not the conceptual elegance of the political approach that will be decisive. The focus must be on achieving measurable progress in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
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« Reply #3208 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:37 AM »

11/27/2012 10:49 AM

Bankruptcy Averted: Europe Agrees on New Aid Package For Greece

By Carsten Volkery in London

Euro-zone finance ministers finally reached a deal to avert a Greek bankruptcy on Monday night, agreeing to the release of the next installment of credit and launching a package of measures to reduce the country's debt. But they shied away from a debt haircut, the only move that could solve the Greek dilemma in the long term.

The 17 euro-zone finance ministers broke their deadlock with the International Monetary Fund on Monday night and agreed to release the next tranche of aid for Greece, which will receive a total of €44 billion starting next month in four installments to be paid by the end of March 2013.

The December installment will comprise €23.8 billion for banks and €10.6 billion in budget assistance.

At their third meeting in as many weeks, the ministers also agreed a further set of measures to reduce Greece's debt burden by 2020.

They didn't have much time left. Greece's debt is rising faster than expected because the country remains mired in recession and has been slow to implement reforms. As a result, the Euro Group of finance ministers had to revise its targets for long-term debt reduction.

Under the new agreement reached after 12 hours of talks in Brussels, Greece is now being required to cut its debt-to-GDP ratio to 124 percent by 2020, compared with a previous target of 120 percent that is regarded by the IMF as the maximum sustainable level.

In order to persuade the IMF to make that concession, the euro nations committed themselves to reducing Greece's debt to below 110 percent by 2022. This is likely to force Greece's government creditors to write down their debt in the medium term -- even though ministers rejected that step on Monday.

There was relief all round after the talks. Two previous marathon meetings had failed to produce an agreement. But the ministers had no choice but to come up with a deal this time.

'The Timetable is Tight'

"This is not just about money," said Euro Group Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker. "This is the promise of a better future for the Greek people and for the euro area as a whole, a break from the era of missed targets and loose implementation towards a new paradigm of steadfast reform momentum, declining debt ratios and a return to growth."

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said: "We now have a result that we can submit to our parliaments for discussion and approval." He said he hoped the German parliament would approve the deal by Friday. "The planned timetable is tight."

Officially, the new measures to cut Greece's debt burden haven't been referred to as a third bailout package because they don't involve granting fresh loans. But they will still cost the international creditors money. The package consists of four elements:

    An interest rate cut on debt from the first bailout package. In 2010, euro-zone member states granted Athens bilateral loans totalling €53 billion at an interest rate that has so far been the equivalent of the Euribor reference rate (the Euro Interbank Offered Rate), plus 1.5 points. The latter value is now to be cut to 0.9 points and later to 0.5 points as soon as Athens generates a primary budget surplus -- a measurement which excludes interest payments on sovereign debt -- of 4.5 percent of GDP. It's unclear how much that will save the Greek state, but the sum will amount to billions of euros. The German government's annual loss of revenue will exceed €100 million.
    Athens has also been granted a 10-year interest rate deferral on debt from the second bailout package. In addition, the term of the loans paid to Greece by the temporary rescue fund EFSF in March will be doubled to 30 years from 15 years. According to the EFSF, the move will ease Greece's debt burden by €44 billion.
    The euro-zone ministers also agreed to launch a voluntary debt buyback of Greek debt and will offer private investors 35 cents for each euro of bonds they hold. At present those bonds are being traded at 20 to 30 cents, depending on their maturity. In theory, Greece's debt burden could be eased at a relatively low cost in this way. The problem is that the prices of the bonds are likely to increase because of the buyback announcement, and this could deter investors from selling their bonds. So it's unclear whether the buyback scheme would cut Greece's debt-to-GDP ratio by much. And there's no decision yet on where the money for the buyback will come from.
    The euro-zone central banks promised to hand back €11 billion in profits accruing to them from European Central Bank purchases of discounted Greek government bonds in the secondary market.

This catalogue of measures will likely suffice to avert a Greek bankruptcy for quite some time, assuming its recession doesn't get even worse. But it doesn't solve the Greek dilemma. It has been three years since Athens triggered the debt crisis by admitting it had hidden the extent of its budget deficit. But after two rescue packages, a debt cut for private creditors and countless austerity programs, Greece's debt is still rising. Next year it's expected to reach 190 percent of GDP, according to an estimate by the troika of European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF.

Many economists believe that Greece's state finances can only be reformed in a sustainable way with a second debt cut. But the finance ministers refrained on Monday from taking that step because it would force them to book actual losses on their loans to Greece for the first time.

The German government in particular, which faces an election in the autumn of 2013, doesn't want to go into the campaign facing accusations that it frittered away taxpayers' money. Schäuble denied on Monday that Germany was alone in rejecting a debt writedown. But Germany is the decisive force blocking a cut.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde failed to persuade Schäuble to back a writedown, but the row is likely to flare up again at a later date. And the German minister hinted at a possible concession further down the line.

"When Greece has achieved, or is about to achieve, a primary surplus and fulfilled all of its conditions, we will, if need be, consider further measures for the reduction of the total debt," he said.
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« Reply #3209 on: Nov 27, 2012, 08:39 AM »

ECB: Eurozone leaders disregard democracy

26 November 2012
La Tribune Paris   
Bas van der Schot

On the sidelines of the Brussels budget summit on November 22 and 23, Eurozone leaders approved the appointment of Luxembourgian Yves Mersch to the board of the European Central Bank. But he was elected despite the European parliament voting against him, a move which highlights the EU's dysfunctional nature.
Romaric Godin

Everyone agrees that Europe suffers from a democratic deficit and a lack of legitimacy which alienate its citizens. That is everyone except for the heads of Eurozone governments, who, notwithstanding a European parliament vote to the contrary, quietly appointed Luxembourg’s central bank governor, Yves Mersch, to the board of the ECB when they met for Friday’s European summit.

With the appointment, the European Council has provided proof of the true value of a European parliament, which, with the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, was supposed to exercise “real” power.

The reason for parliament’s rejection of Mr Mersch's application – his gender – hardly matters. You might even argue that it was not valid. But, in a democracy, you cannot ignore a parliamentary vote. It is a golden rule which is far more important than a guideline for the management of budgets. However, it is not one that has been set down in European treaties.

Governed by summits

Yves Mersch’s arrival on the board of the ECB highlights the extent to which Europe has been steered in the wrong direction by heads of state and government who are determined that only their voices should be heard.

The trouble with this attitude is that it results in difficulties which are a lot more problematic than the appointment of a Luxembourgian banker. The disastrous management of the debt crisis, which for the last two years, has sought to treat a serious financial hemorrhage with plasters that have offered at a series of “last chance summits”, is a case in point. And the Eurogroup’s recent failure to find a solution for Greece, which is supposed to be fixed on Monday, is yet further proof.

Crocodile tears in 2014...

The establishment of a proper European parliamentary system could be the means for the creation a Europe-wide sense of community which is sorely lacking.

It would encourage greater responsibility on the part of voters, political representatives and heads of state that would certainly be for the good. It is galling to think that the same heads of state who have wiped their feet on the vote by the Strasbourg parliament will tearily deplore the mass abstention that will inevitably mark the next European election and sigh over “the illness that is eating away at our democracy.”

In reality, the decision to appoint Yves Mersch is a lot more worrying than it might appear, because it marks the victory of a certain idea of Europe. On the level of monetary policy, it has brought a hawk onto the board of the ECB – a hawk who will be the voice of the Bundesbank, and who will likely cite the need for “stability” as his reason for acting as an internal brake on the ECB’s necessary contribution to management of the crisis.

Spain shown the door

On the issue of representation in Europe, the arrival of Mr Mersch will confirm a definitive decision to remove the permanent Spanish representative from the board of the ECB, which is why Madrid has spoken out against the appointment.

We should not kid ourselves: Spain’s financial difficulties are the reason for its expulsion. In other words, this means that countries caught up in the economic crisis will be treated as second-class states. Or worse still, Europe’s heads of state and government believe it is useful to ensure a certain “north-south” balance on the ECB board, thereby reinforcing a certain “ethnic” vision of Europe. All of this bodes very badly for the future management of the continent.

The disproportionate weight of Luxembourg

Finally the appointment of a native of Luxembourg, whose prime minister is already at the head of Eurogroup, will add to the disproportionate weight of the Grand Duchy in European institutions.

It is not a matter of refusing to acknowledge that the subjects of His Royal Highness Henri of Luxembourg might be a little more gifted than the rest of us, but at a time when the European Commission has taken issue with the small state’s reluctance to join in the fight against tax havens, and at a time when larger countries are struggling to clean up their finances, the influence of Luxembourg cannot be described as neutral.
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