The EU warned on Wednesday that recovery measures in France and Italy are not affordable in the long term, as it expressed fear the coronavirus crisis is fuelling runaway spending.
The European Commission said that while no country’s budget for 2021 was an immediate problem, given the challenges, massive stimulus measures must be strictly temporary and not go beyond the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the urgency, “we need to look beyond the short term as well,” EU executive vice president Valdis Dombrovskis said.
“Member states should take supportive measures that are targeted, temporary and do not permanently burden public finances,” he told reporters.
The EU pointed to a wage hike for health care workers in France and tax cuts to poor regions in southern Italy as stimulus decisions that would have to be financed if made permanent.
“Some measures set out in the plans of France, Italy and Slovakia do not appear to be temporary or matched by offsetting measures,” the EU’s economic affairs commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told reporters.
The European economy crashed in the wake of massive lockdowns in March, with a recovery seen this summer now under threat with the second wave of covid-19.
To avert an economic catastrophe, national governments, backed by the European Central Bank, triggered a spending bonanza, with several countries seeing public debt balloon to unseen levels.
As the health emergency drags on, the EU executive is turning a blind eye to the extra spending, with budget rules that Brussels is usually tasked to enforce suspended until 2022.
Even before the pandemic, debt levels in Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain were an acute EU concern.
But the worry has been overshadowed by the ECB’s massive wave of bond-buying that has kept the financial markets at bay and left borrowing prices for the overspenders at record lows.
Britain will not change its stance as it seeks a post-Brexit deal with the European Union, negotiator David Frost said Sunday as he arrived in Brussels for talks.
“We are working to get a deal, but the only one that’s possible is one that is compatible with our sovereignty and takes back control of our laws, our trade, and our waters. That has been our consistent position from the start and I will not be changing it,” he tweeted.
Frost said he and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier would resume their face-to-face negotiations Sunday.
Talks over the next few days are seen as crucial for any deal before time runs out at the end of the year, when the post-Brexit transition period ends.
Frost warned “we may not succeed”.
He noted some progress, but said “significant elements” remained to be resolved.
The persistent differences are over EU demands for a level playing field in trade to ensure fair competition and for a robust disputes mechanism, and both sides are arguing over fishing rights in British waters.
Dominic Cummings, the controversial brains behind the 2016 campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, on Friday stepped down as a top aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Cummings was due to leave at the end of the year, reports said, but he was seen walking out of Johnson’s 10 Downing Street office on Friday carrying a cardboard box.
A government source confirmed he would no longer be officially employed from “mid-December”.
Cummings: The Brains Behind ‘Vote Leave’
The 48-year-old was the brains behind the campaign that saw Britain narrowly vote in 2016 to leave the European Union.
He was portrayed by actor Benedict Cumberbatch in a TV dramatisation of the seismic referendum which divided the nation and has led to years of crippling political infighting.
His aggressive campaigning tactics, including an infamous Brexit campaign bus emblazoned with a questionable promise of funding for healthcare, made him a hate figure for Brexit opponents.
Former Conservative prime minister David Cameron called him a “career psychopath”, and he was unpopular with many MPs from the ruling party and even staunch Brexiteers.
– Accused of Hypocrisy –
Cummings caused outrage earlier this year for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules that he helped to draft, making a cross-country dash while suffering from Covid-19 symptoms and after his wife had contracted the virus.
He refused to resign, and Johnson refused to sack him, despite ridicule and derision at his claim he drove because he needed to check his eyesight.
Cummings’ electoral successes were partly built on tapping into widespread frustrations with the political classes, and his own disdain for political journalists and the wider media.
But for a man claiming to be more in touch with the public, he misjudged the mood badly by defending his 250-mile (400-kilometre) coronavirus trip.
People who stuck to the rules — in some cases missing a chance to say a final goodbye to loved ones who died from the virus or attend their funerals — were furious and accused him of hypocrisy.
Johnson hired Cummings after he became prime minister in July 2019, when the government was bogged down in its attempts to leave the European Union and parliament was unable to agree on a divorce deal.
He hoped Cummings’ reputation for unconventional and bold action would help break the deadlock — and the move paid off spectacularly.
Johnson called a snap election in December and secured an 80-seat parliamentary majority, setting the seal on Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Cummings’ departure comes before the end of an 11-month transition period, and the real start of the country’s post-Brexit future.
– ‘Weirdos and Misfits’ –
Johnson entrusted Cummings with his ambitious big-spending plans to modernise the economy and state, giving him unprecedented powers as an aide.
But that agenda has been overshadowed by the coronavirus outbreak.
Cummings famously sent out a call for “weirdos and misfits” to join his policy unit, driven by science geeks and “artists” as a direct challenge to civil service control.
His dress sense — more Silicon Valley than Westminster — earned him the title of the world’s worst-dressed man from GQ Magazine, which said he looked like “an unlicensed cab driver”.
Oxford University-educated Cummings, the son of an oil-rig worker and a teacher, began as a government adviser to then-education minister Michael Gove, following a stint working in post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s.
He locked horns immediately with the civil service, which he dubbed the “blob” for resisting his reform plans that one commentator described as “either mad, bad or brilliant”.
But it was during the 2016 referendum campaign that he made his name, although he was contemptuous of many of those campaigning alongside him.
He called leading Tory Brexit supporter David Davis “thick as mince” and “lazy as a toad” while anti-EU figurehead Nigel Farage said he “had huge personal enmity with the true believers in Brexit”.
Britain and the European Union resumed crucial negotiations in London on Monday for a post-Brexit free trade deal, with time running short and both sides saying major obstacles remain.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier arrived in the British capital late Sunday before another week of talks with his UK counterpart David Frost, as they scramble to find an agreement.
Britain formally left the bloc in January but remains bound by most of its rules until the end of the year under the terms of its divorce.
Parliaments in London and Brussels need time to ratify any deal struck, leaving scant time for the two sides to find a compromise on key outstanding issues.
These include establishing rules for competition between British and European companies, oversight mechanism and fishing rights.
Barnier said on Twitter the keys to unlocking the door to a deal were “respect of EU autonomy and UK sovereignty” alongside “robust guarantees of free and fair trade” and “stable and reciprocal access to markets and fishing opportunities”.
In a weekend phone call, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged big differences must be bridged after two weeks of “intense” meetings ended last Wednesday.
Von der Leyen vowed both negotiating teams would “continue working hard” while Johnson said they would “redouble efforts to reach a deal”.
However, neither side has indicated yet that they are willing to make the compromises needed for a breakthrough.
Observers have said an agreement is needed by mid-November to allow for ratification.
– ‘Sensible approach’ –
Britons voted to end decades of EU economic and political integration in 2016 but implementing Brexit has proved immensely difficult ever since.
After finally agreeing initial divorce terms last year, the two sides began fraught negotiations over a future free trade deal.
They had predicted a draft would need to be finalised by mid-October in order to be ratified by the EU and UK parliaments before the end of the year.
But the coronavirus pandemic strained the already ambitious timetable, while the most divisive issues have stalled the talks for months.
Without a deal, Britain would leave the EU single market and customs union on January 1, triggering immediate and significant barriers to cross-Channel trade and business.
London and Brussels still insist they would prefer to avoid the economic disruption that this would entail.
Environment Secretary George Eustice offered a glimmer of hope that the UK could be ready to show more flexibility over EU access to British waters for fishing crews.
“We’ve always been open to doing a sensible approach looking particularly at agreements that might span a couple, three years for instance,” he told Sky News.
Britain has been reported to be holding out for annual talks over fisheries access.
“Controlled access to our waters has always been a red line for us in these negotiations,” Eustice added.
– ‘Pause for thought’ –
A so-called no-deal Brexit could complicate the situation on the island of Ireland, and its politically-sensitive border between UK-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
London is currently pushing controversial legislation through parliament to regulate its post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland that would unilaterally rewrite the EU divorce treaty and breach its terms.
Brussels has already initiated legal action over the draft law, which British lawmakers in the upper chamber House of Lords will vote on later Monday.
Meanwhile leading Democrats in the United States, including Irish-American President-elect Joe Biden, have warned a US-UK trade deal could be compromised if the island becomes a “casualty” of a “no-deal” Brexit.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Monday that Biden’s election could lead London to “pause for thought” and “ensure that the Irish issues are prioritised”.
“Joe Biden is a real friend of Ireland,” Coveney added, noting he had stressed “the need to prevent a hard border at any point in the future linked to Brexit policy and Brexit negotiations”.
A total of 2.2 million ads on Facebook and Instagram have been rejected and 120,000 posts withdrawn for attempting to “obstruct voting” in the upcoming US presidential election, Facebook’s vice president Nick Clegg said in an interview published Sunday.
In addition, warnings were posted on 150 million examples of false information posted online, the former British deputy prime minister told the French weekly Journal du Dimanche.
Facebook has been increasing its efforts to avoid a repeat of events leading up to the 2016 US presidential election, won by Donald Trump, when its network was used for attempts at voter manipulation, carried out from Russia.
There were similar problems ahead of Britain’s 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union.
“Thirty-five thousand employees take care of the security of our platforms and contribute for elections,” said Clegg, who is vice president of global affairs and communications at Facebook.
“We have established partnerships with 70 specialised media, including five in France, on the verification of information”, he added.
AFP is one of those partners.
Clegg added that the company also uses artificial intelligence which has “made it possible to delete billions of posts and fake accounts, even before they are reported by users”.
Facebook also stores all advertisements and information on their funding and provenance for seven years “to insure transparency,” he said.
In 2016, while he was still deputy prime minister, Clegg complained to the Journal du Dimanche that Facebook had not identified or suppressed a single foreign network interfering in the US election.
On Wednesday President Trump rebuked Facebook and Twitter for blocking links to a New York Post article purporting to expose corrupt dealings by election rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine.
A day earlier Facebook announced a ban on ads that discourage people from getting vaccinated, in light of the coronavirus pandemic which the social media giant said has “highlighted the importance of preventive health behaviors.”
The European Union launched legal proceedings on Thursday in response to the British government’s attempt to overturn parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
The infringement procedure, which could come before European courts, has not yet derailed post-Brexit trade talks, but reflects the pessimistic mood in Brussels as time runs short for a deal.
“This morning, the Commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to the UK Government. This is the first step in an infringement procedure,” EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said.
“The letter invites the UK Government to send its observations within a month,” said von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the EU executive.
On Tuesday, British lawmakers adopted a bill to regulate the UK’s internal market from January 1, when Britain will complete its post-Brexit transition period and leave the EU single market and customs union.
The proposed law, by London’s own admission, overwrites parts of the withdrawal treaty that Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed with EU leaders last year, resulting in a breach of international law.
Johnson’s government has described this bill as a “safety net” in case post-Brexit trade talks fail and the EU tries to impose a customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
But EU capitals — including Dublin — see these provisions as key to preventing a return of a hard border with Ireland and preserving the good relations underpinned by the Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland.
“As you know, we had invited our British friends to remove the problematic parts of their draft internal market bill by the end of September,” von der Leyen said.
“This draft bill is by its very nature, a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the withdrawal agreement. Moreover, if adopted as is, it will be in full contradiction to the protocol (on) Ireland, Northern Ireland.
“The deadline lapsed yesterday, the problematic provisions have not been removed.”
– Clouds trade negotiations –
An EU statement said that the bill would breach Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement, which states that both sides must “cooperate in good faith” to implement the agreement.
If Britain does not back down, the infringement procedure could go all the way to the European Court of Justice, which would be able to impose large fines.
“We will respond to the letter in due course,” a British government spokesman told reporters, playing down the significance of the announcement.
“We have clearly set out our reasons for introducing the measures related to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“We need to create a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK’s internal market, ensure ministers can always deliver on their obligations to Northern Ireland and protect the gains from the peace process.”
Johnson has pushed on with the legislation — despite concerns in his own party and a warning from Washington that it puts Irish peace at risk.
The legislation is now being debated by the House of Lords.
In parallel to the battle over the bill, EU and UK negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost are meeting in Brussels this week for their final planned round of talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.
Diplomats say these talks will not be torpedoed by the legal action but London’s stance has cast a cloud over negotiations ahead of a planned EU summit on October 15.
If there is no deal by the end of October, European officials warn it is hard to see how one could be ratified by the end of the year, meaning the UK would leave the single market with no trade agreement.
This would exacerbate what is already expected to be the economic shock of Brexit, with more severe disruption to cross-Channel trade, renewed tariffs and the prospect of a dispute over fishing rights.
European leaders meanwhile were arriving in Brussels for a two-day summit on foreign policy and the EU budget.
Diplomats said they would not allow Brexit to divert them from their agenda, but that Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin would lay out Dublin’s concerns on Friday.
Kano state has secured Japan and the European Union (EU) Grants targeted at specific individuals and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which would go along way in supporting communities badly affected by the pandemic.
Facilitated by Office of the Special Adviser to Governor Ganduje on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Habibu Yahaya Hotoro, who also happens to be the Coordinating Focal Person of the Northwest Zonal SDGs Hub, the programme would alleviate some fears of what people could face in POST-COVID-19 period.
In a statement signed by the Governor’s Chief Press Secretary Abba Anwar said, “A total sum of $1.1m is slated for the exercise. In a Cash-For-Work arrangement, the total number of 1,600 individuals will benefit. While 630 SMEs will also be part of the beneficiaries in the grant distribution process.”
Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano state, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in a letter referenced ORG/4071 and dated 3rd of August, 2020, signed by Lealem Dinku, Officer in Charge, UNDP Nigeria and captioned “Support to communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Kano state,” it is stated that, “the United Nations has undertaken several initiatives to support the communities affected by the pandemic.”
It earlier stated that “the COVID-19 pandemic has caused infections, deaths and untold hardships to the most vulnerable particularly the urban poor in hotspots locations across the nation.”
Mr. Anwar further stated that The letter sent to the governor continued that, “It is in this regard that UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Nigeria in collaboration with the government of Japan, has initiated a project to support selected vulnerable communities affected by the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 to minimise the impact of job and livelihood losses and to also help contain the spread of the Virus.”
“We have identified Kano state as a key target state and will be working closely with your office and selected communities in implementing this initiative,” concludes the letter.
Meanwhile, the statement added that Governor Ganduje has already directed that, the most vulnerable people should be the target. As hinted by Hotoro, “Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, after directing that our target should be the most vulnerable, he also made us open 500 new bank accounts for those who never benefited in any form of intervention in the past.”
Explaining that, governor Ganduje directed that all bank charges must be paid on behalf of those identified and selected beneficiaries, “All in an effort to effectively cushion the effect of the hardships caused by the pandemic,” he concludes.
The European Commission on Thursday unveiled plans to regulate cryptocurrencies, proposing rules that could limit the development of Facebook-backed Libra and similar projects.
Cryptocurrencies have exploded in popularity among investors since the emergence of Bitcoin, but the general public, banks and regulators remain wary.
Pressure from member states has pushed the EU executive to unveil its proposals to regulate the new sector, in the hopes of also nurturing its development.
“We should embrace the digital transformation proactively, while mitigating any potential risks,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, an executive vice president of the European Commission.
The plans cover a wide range of so-called crypto-assets and, once ratified, could help reassure investors and make it easier to develop these activities on a lager scale.
Proponents of cryptocurrencies believe they will disrupt finance as they cut out the staff, administration and the high costs needed in traditional banking and investment.
Banks, central banks and other traditional financial entities are exploring their own versions of cryptocurrencies, though it is too early to know how the field will develop.
But Dombrovskis said that potentially global digital currencies such as Facebook’s Libra would face more “stringent requirements” since they “pose specific challenges to financial stability,” Dombrovskis said.
The tech giant’s announcement last year of plans to design the Libra cryptocurrency and payments system raised red flags for global regulators and provoked criticism of privately-run currencies.
Facebook has touted its initiative as a way to lower costs for consumers around the world, eliminating the high fees of cross-border transfers.
But governments in Europe insist that any digital currency would require careful supervision and must be backed by the euro or other EU currencies.
In the commission’s plan, the biggest digital currencies such as Libra would have to be overseen by the European Banking Authority.
The commission also said it was looking to more closely regulate payments systems Europe-wide, an issue that came to light with the Wirecard scandal in Germany.
Exposed for alleged fraud, Wirecard had escaped the intense scrutiny targeted at traditional financial firms in part because it was considered a much celebrated tech upstart and not a bank.
The commission’s proposal will now be negotiated with the European Parliament and member states, in a process that could see a final law within a few months or years.