Johnson Showed ‘Lots Of Enthusiasm’ On Wider European Community Idea – Macron Office

A file photo: French President Emmanuel Macron (Photo by GONZALO FUENTES / POOL / AFP)

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson showed interest in France’s idea of creating a wider European political community beyond the EU during talks between the two countries’ leaders on Sunday, the French presidency said.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron saw “lots of enthusiasm” from his British counterpart who oversaw his country leaving the EU, when he spoke about the idea, a spokesman said.

The broader community could allow Britain to “reengage” with the bloc, he added.

More to follow…

EU Grants Candidate Status To Ukraine As US Ships Weapons

France's President Emmanuel Macron (L), President of the European Council Charles Michel (C) and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (R) attend a press conference during an European Council in Brussels on June 23, 2022. JOHN THYS / AFP
France’s President Emmanuel Macron (L), President of the European Council Charles Michel (C) and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (R) attend a press conference during an European Council in Brussels on June 23, 2022. JOHN THYS / AFP

 

European Union leaders granted candidate status Thursday to Ukraine and Moldova in a strong show of support against Russia’s invasion, as the United States said it was sending Kyiv more high-precision rocket systems.

The West’s latest attempts to rally behind Ukraine came as Russia closed in on key cities in the country’s embattled east and prompted growing global concerns with restrictions in gas and grain exports.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the EU decision on his country and Moldova as “a unique and historic moment”, although the two former Soviet republics face a long path before joining the bloc and its benefits of free movement and a common market.

 

“Ukraine’s future is within the EU,” said Zelensky, who had been working the phones for weeks.

“We will win, rebuild, enter the EU and then will rest. Or probably we will not rest.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said that the decision by EU leaders sent a “very strong signal” to Russia that Europeans support the pro-Western aspirations of Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin had declared Ukraine to be part of Moscow’s sphere and insisted he was acting due to attempts to bring the country into NATO, the Western alliance that comes with security guarantees.

European powers before the invasion had distanced themselves from US support for Ukraine’s NATO aspirations and EU membership is at least years away.

Ukraine and Moldova will have to go through protracted negotiations and the European Union has laid out steps that Kyiv must take even before that, including bolstering the rule of law and fighting corruption.

Weapons to fight Russian gains

The White House announced that it was sending another $450 million in fresh weapons to Ukraine including new High Mobility Artillery Rocket systems, which have been at the top of Kyiv’s wish list.

The so-called Himars system can simultaneously launch multiple precision missiles at an extended range.

An initial four units have already been delivered, with Ukrainian soldiers being trained to operate the equipment, after President Joe Biden’s administration said Kyiv had offered assurances it would not fire into Russia.

Ukraine’s needs have been increasingly urgent as Russia — which failed to take Kyiv immediately after invading on February 24 — advances in the east, tightening its grip on strategically important Severodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk across the Donets river.

Taking the cities would give Moscow control of the whole of Lugansk, allowing Russia to press further into the Donbas region and potentially farther west.

Ukraine acknowledged Thursday that it had lost control of two areas from where it was defending the cities, with Russian forces now closer to encircling the industrial hubs.

Britain’s defence ministry said some Ukrainian units had probably been forced to withdraw “to avoid being encircled”.

“Russia’s improved performance in this sector is likely a result of recent unit reinforcement and heavy concentration of fire,” it said in its latest intelligence update.

A representative of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine told AFP the resistance of Ukrainian forces trying to defend Lysychansk and Severodonetsk was “pointless and futile.”

“At the rate our soldiers are going, very soon the whole territory of the Lugansk People’s Republic will be liberated,” said Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the army of Lugansk.

The Russian army also said Thursday that its bombings in the southern city of Mykolaiv had destroyed 49 fuel storage tanks and three tank repair depots, after strikes killed several Ukrainian troops Wednesday.

‘Only grannies left’

The northeastern city of Kharkiv near the Russian border was nearly empty on Wednesday, AFP reporters said, a day after shelling by Moscow’s forces killed five people there.

“Last night the building next to mine collapsed from the bombardment while I was sleeping,” said Leyla Shoydhry, a young woman in a park near the opera house.

Roman Pohuliay, a 19-year-old in a pink sweatshirt, said most residents had fled the city.

“Only the grannies are left,” he said.

In the central city of Zaporizhzhia, women were training to use Kalashnikov assault rifles in urban combat as Russian forces edged nearer.

“When you can do something, it’s not so scary to take a machine gun in your hands,” said Ulyana Kiyashko, 29, after moving through an improvised combat zone in a basement.

‘Weaponising’ grain and gas

Western officials have also accused Russia of weaponising its key exports of gas as well as grain from Ukraine, contributing to global inflation and rising hunger in the world.

“We are very clear that this grain crisis is urgent, that it needs to be solved within the next month,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on a visit to Turkey.

“Otherwise we could see devastating consequences,” she said.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged African nations to pressure Russia for a safe route for grain.

“African capitals matter and they do influence Russia’s position,” he told African journalists.

A US official warned of new retaliatory measures against Russia at the Group of Seven summit being attended by Biden in Germany starting Sunday.

Germany ratcheted up an emergency gas plan to its second alert level, just one short of the maximum that could require rationing in Europe’s largest economy, after Russia slashed its supplies.

“Gas is now a scarce commodity,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters, urging households to cut back on use. Demand for gas is lower in the summer but shortages could cause heating shortages in the winter.

France is aiming to have its gas storage reserves at full capacity by early autumn, and will build a new floating methane terminal to get more energy supplies by sea, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said.

A Kremlin spokesman reiterated its claim that the supply cuts were due to maintenance and that necessary equipment from abroad had not arrived.

AFP

EU Weighs Ukraine Candidacy As Russia Inflicts ‘Hell’ In East

EU Flag

 

EU leaders met in Brussels on Thursday to discuss making Ukraine a candidate to join the bloc, a “decisive” moment likely to infuriate Russia as its forces battled stiff resistance to advance in the embattled eastern Donbas region.

Western officials also denounced Moscow’s “weaponising” of its key gas and grain exports, with a US official warning of further retaliation measures at a G7 summit in Germany starting Sunday.

Germany ratcheted up an emergency gas plan to its second alert level, just one short of the maximum that could require rationing in Europe’s largest economy after Russia slashed its supplies.

“Gas is now a scarce commodity,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters, urging households to cut back on use.

In Ankara Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “weaponising hunger” by preventing grain shipments from leaving Ukraine ports, raising the spectre of shortages worldwide.

“We are very clear that this grain crisis is urgent, that it needs to be solved within the next month. Otherwise, we could see devastating consequences,” Truss said after talks with her Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Moscow and Ankara have negotiated for weeks on getting millions of tonnes of desperately needed grain out of the war zone and on to Africa and the Middle East, so far to no avail.

The potential consequences for Ukraine’s allies loomed large over the country’s EU candidate status talks in Brussels, and the G7 and NATO meetings in the following days.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had conducted a “telephone marathon” ahead of the meeting, making his case to 11 European leaders on Wednesday alone.

“This is a decisive moment for the European Union, this is also a geopolitical choice that we will make today,” EU council president Charles Michel told journalists ahead of the summit.

– Russian gains –
While the European Commission-backed candidacy is widely expected to be approved, some members have been lukewarm about Ukraine’s status, and any accession process is likely to take years if not decades.

On the ground in the Donbas, the situation was becoming increasingly urgent as Russian forces tightened their grip on the strategically important city of Severodonetsk, as well as its twin city of Lysychansk across the Donets river.

Taking the two cities would give Moscow control of the whole of Lugansk, allowing Russia to press further into Donbas.

Britain’s defence ministry said some Ukrainian units had probably withdrawn “to avoid being encircled” as Russian troops advanced slowly but steadily toward Lysychansk.

“Russia’s improved performance in this sector is likely a result of recent unit reinforcement and heavy concentration of fire,” it said in its latest intelligence update.

“The Russian army is… just destroying everything” in Lysychansk, said Sergiy Gaiday, governor of the Lugansk region.

“It’s just hell out there,” after four months of shelling in Severodonetsk, he wrote later, vowing that “Our boys are holding their positions and will continue to hold on as long as necessary.”

– ‘Only grannies left’ –
After being pushed back from Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine in the initial weeks of the invasion launched on February 24, Moscow is seeking to seize a vast eastern swathe of the country.

But daily bombardments also continue elsewhere.

The northeastern city of Kharkiv near the Russian border was near empty on Wednesday, AFP reporters said, a day after shelling by Moscow’s forces killed five people there.

“Last night the building next to mine collapsed from the bombardment while I was sleeping,” said Leyla Shoydhry, a young woman in a park near the opera house.

Roman Pohuliay, a 19-year-old in a pink sweatshirt, said most residents had fled the city.

“Only the grannies are left,” he said.

Zelensky again pressed allies Wednesday for the rapid supply of more arms, having earlier accused the Russian army of “brutal and cynical” shelling in the eastern Kharkiv region, where the governor said 15 people had been killed in a day.

In the central city of Zaporizhzhia, meanwhile, women were training to use Kalashnikov assault rifles in urban combat as Russian forces edged nearer.

“When you can do something, it’s not so scary to take a machine gun in your hands,” said Ulyana Kiyashko, 29, after moving through an improvised combat zone in a basement.

– Lithuania in cross-hairs –
Away from the battlefield, Moscow this week summoned Brussels’ ambassador in a dispute with EU member Lithuania over the country’s restrictions on rail traffic to the Russian outpost of Kaliningrad.

The coastal territory, annexed from Germany after World War II, is about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) from Moscow, and borders Lithuania and Poland but has no land border with Russia.

By blocking goods arriving from Russia, Lithuania says it is simply adhering to European Union-wide sanctions on Moscow.

The United States made clear its commitment to Lithuania as a NATO ally, while Germany urged Russia not to “violate international law” by retaliating.

2023 Elections: Collect Your PVCs And Vote, EU Charges Nigerians

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Ahead of the 2023 general elections, the European Union has charged Nigerians to get their Permanent Voter Cards, register and vote on the election day.

The EU gave the charge on Tuesday via a statement issued by its press officer, Modestus Chukwulaka, pledging to support the mobilisation of voters to fully participate in the polls.

The EU delegation said it will embark on the “Youth Vote Count Campaign 2.0, organised in collaboration with INEC, YIAGA and other civil society organisations in the framework of EU Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN).”

READ ALSO: Two Senators Defect From APC To PDP

“As Nigeria will go to the polls for its seventh general elections since the return to civilian rule, the EU Delegation encourages eligible voters, and youth in particular, to register and collect their PVCs (Permanent Voter Card) and to turn out on election day!” the statement partly read.

It said a mega-concert will take place on Saturday 25th June in Abuja with the participation of celebrities and influencers to encourage voters’ participation, following one of such which was held in Lagos on 11th June.

On the Ekiti election, the union congratulated all stakeholders and the people of the state on a largely peaceful poll.

This is even as it commended Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on improved logistics, including early deployment of personnel and essential materials in the majority of the polling units, better functioning of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and efficient electronic transmission of polling unit results to INEC’s results viewing portal.

While noting that the improvement augurs well for the 2023 general elections, the EU encouraged voters, and in particular the youth and women, to sustain their participation beyond the elections by holding candidates accountable for their campaign promises.

EU Adds West African Jihadists To Sanctions Blacklist

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

 

The European Union on Monday added three Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist commanders in West Africa to its terrorist sanctions blacklist for attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso.

The new asset freezes and visa bans target Sidan Ag-Hitta and Salem ould Breihmatt, senior commanders within the UN-listed Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam Wal-Muslimin (JNIM) in Mali, as well as its Burkinabe branch Ansarul Islam and its leader Jafar Dicko.

“The sanctioned group and individuals are responsible for several terrorist attacks, including against civilians, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali and defence and security forces in Burkina Faso,” the EU said.

“Their activities contribute to the expansion of the terrorist threat in Western Africa and therefore pose a serious and continued threat to the EU and to regional and international stability.”

The move takes to 13 people and four groups the number of targets now on the EU’s blacklist against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

Russia Putting World In Danger Of Famine, Warns EU

An aerial view shows the destroyed Community Art Center following a strike in the city of Lysychansk, in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 17, 2022, as the Russian-Ukraine war enters its 114th day. ARIS MESSINIS / AFP

 

Russia is putting the world at risk of famine through its blockade of Ukraine’s shipments of grains and restrictions on its own exports, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Saturday.

The threat to food security and a “battle of narrative” with Russia on Western-imposed sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine will dominate European Union foreign ministers’ talks in Luxembourg on Monday.

“We are ready to work with the UN and our partners to prevent any unwanted impact on global food security,” Borrell said in an article published on his official blog.

“Russia’s conscious political choice is to ‘weaponise'” grain exports and “use them as a tool for blackmail against anyone that opposes its aggression” in Ukraine, Borrell said.

“Russia turned the Black Sea into a war zone, blocking shipments of grain and fertiliser from Ukraine but also affecting Russian merchant shipping. Russia is also applying quotas and taxes on its grain exports,” he added.

The sanctions imposed by the EU “do not prohibit Russia to export any agricultural goods, payment for such Russian exports or the provision of seeds, provided that sanctioned individuals or entities are not involved”.

“We are fully aware that there is a ‘battle of narratives around this issue” of sanctions, Borrell continued.

He added that it was imperative that Ukrainian exports be allowed to resume by ship.

“We are working closely with the UN on this issue and the EU and its member states are ready to do their part of the necessary actions to achieve this.

“We hope that a solution can be found in the coming days. Not doing this threatens to cause a global food catastrophe,” he warned.

-AFP

Ukraine Hails EU Backing For Membership As Historic’

File Photo of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky 
Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP

 

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday praised a decision from the European Commission to give its backing for Kyiv to be granted EU candidacy status, nearly four months into Russia’s invasion of the country.

“It’s the first step on the EU membership path that’ll certainly bring our victory closer,” Zelensky wrote on social media, adding that he was “grateful” to EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and “each EC member for a historic decision”.

Formal “candidate” status for Ukraine could open up a years-long path towards joining the bloc, with the decision likely to be formalised at an EU leaders’ summit on June 23-24.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the EC’s backing as “European history in the making” in a post on social media and called for Ukraine to be granted full candidacy status.

“This will be a vivid proof of European leadership and a huge boost for Ukraine’s further transformations,” he said.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, hailed on social media what he described as a “truly historic day for Ukraine and Europe”.

He said many Ukrainians “have already paid the ultimate price” for the European Commission’s backing for Kyiv’s EU candidacy status.

EU Backs Ukraine’s ‘European Dream’ As Russia Cuts Gas Supplies

 

EU Flag

 

 

Europe sent a powerful symbol of solidarity with Ukraine on Friday, when Brussels backed Kyiv’s bid for EU candidate status, even as Russia shelled frontline Ukrainian cities and cut back gas supplies to the West.

With the European Commission’s backing, Ukraine could now be added to the list of countries vying for EU membership as early as next week, when member state leaders meet at their Brussels summit.

All 27 EU leaders will have to agree to the candidacy, but the heads of the European Union’s biggest members — France, Germany and Italy — already gave their full-throated support to the idea on Thursday, on a trip to a war-torn suburb of Kyiv.

Then on Friday, the European Commission gave the executive’s formal backing to the bid, and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen made her position clear by donning a striking jacket in Ukraine’s national colours.

“We all know that Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective. We want them to live with us for the European dream,” she said.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky immediately welcomed the decision as a “first step on the EU membership path that’ll certainly bring our victory closer”.

He thanked von der Leyen for the commission’s “historic decision” and said he expected that EU leaders would give Ukraine a “positive result” at the June 23 to 24 summit.

Once Ukraine joins the EU candidates’ list — alongside several countries in the western Balkans — it could still take years to meet all the formal membership requirements, even if Kyiv prevails in the war.

“Yes, Ukraine should be welcomed as a candidate country — this is based on the understanding that good work has been done but important work also remains to be done,” von der Leyen said.

And in the meantime, the fighting continues, with Russian forces bombarding Ukrainian pockets of resistance in frontline Severodonetsk, including civilians holed up in a chemical plant in the eastern Ukrainian city.

And Moscow turned up the pressure on the Western allies, sharply reducing flows of natural gas in its pipelines to Western Europe, driving up energy prices.

– ‘Die for the dream’ –
France’s network provider said it had not received any Russian gas by pipeline from Germany since June 15, and Italy’s Eni said it expected Russian firm Gazprom to cut its supplies by half on Friday.

Several European countries, including Italy and Germany, are highly reliant upon Russian gas for their energy needs and, as the West sides with Ukraine, Moscow is cutting supplies.

Berlin and Rome have rejected Russia’s argument that technical issues have caused the drop in supplies, arguing that state-owned Gazprom’s move is political.

But western Europe is sweltering in a heatwave and energy prices are already soaring, adding to runaway inflation and industrial action in several economies.

The situation is, of course, more stark in Ukraine itself, where Russian troops have occupied a swathe of the south and east of the country during the 113-day war, including much of the Donbas region.

“The humanitarian situation across Ukraine — particularly in the eastern Donbas — is extremely alarming and continues to deteriorate rapidly,” the UN humanitarian agency, OCHA, said.

The statement said the situation is “particularly worrying in and around Severodonetsk” — where bloody battles have raged for weeks.

– ‘God’s will’ –
Severodonetsk is in the Lugansk region, where governor Sergiy Gaiday called for a ceasefire, stating hundreds of civilians were trapped in the besieged Azot chemical plant in the city.

“It is now impossible and physically dangerous to get out of the plant due to constant shelling and fighting. There are 568 people in the shelter, including 38 children,” he said.

Gaiday said earlier this week that around 10,000 civilians remained in the city, which is controlled mostly by Russian forces.

In the frontline Donbas village of Adamivka near the city of Sloviansk, a community of Orthodox nuns have seen a rocket hole blasted into the wall of their well-tended garden.

Under near-constant bombardment by Russian forces, Sister Anastasi and a group of other black-clad nuns and pilgrims live day-to-day, praying for deliverance.

“We are all alive, yes. No one has left. This is our home,” she said quietly, her face framed by a black veil, as shells crashed in the distance.

“We trust in God’s will, in God’s help, in the help of all the saints and the Holy Virgin. This is our home, we have nowhere else to go.”

At least two people were killed and 20 injured in a Russian strike on a residential area in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, the local governor said.

EU Leaders Vow To Back Ukraine In Visit To War-Torn Kyiv

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The leaders of major EU powers France, Germany and Italy vowed Thursday to help Ukraine defeat Russia and to rebuild its shattered cities, in a visit to a war-torn Kyiv suburb.

French President Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian premier Mario Draghi arrived in Ukraine by train and headed to Irpin, scene of fierce battles early in Russia’s invasion.

“France has been alongside Ukraine since day one. We stand with the Ukrainians without ambiguity. Ukraine must resist and win,” Macron told journalists.

Surrounded by the wreckage left by Ukraine’s successful but hard-fought defence of its capital in the early stages of the 113-day-old conflict, Draghi said: “We will rebuild everything.

“They destroyed kindergartens, they destroyed playgrounds. Everything will be rebuilt,” he promised.

It is the first time the three have visited Kyiv since Russia’s February 24 invasion.

Ukraine has applied to join the European Union and, although no-one in Brussels expects this to be a quick process, the leaders of the bloc’s most powerful countries were expected to bring President Volodymyr Zelensky a positive message.

Kyiv is also pleading with its western allies to step up supplies of weapons to its forces, which are outgunned by Russian artillery on the frontline in east of the country.

– ‘Stand by Ukraine’ –

Germany, especially, has been criticised for slow weapons deliveries, but western defence ministers are meeting in Brussels to discuss what more they can do and on Wednesday US President Joe Biden announced $1 billion worth of new arms for Ukrainian forces.

Moscow was dismissive of the European visit, and of the arms supplies.

“Supporting Ukraine by further pumping Ukraine with weapons,” warned Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov would be “absolutely useless and will cause further damage to the country”.

The new US support package includes howitzers, ammunition, anti-ship missile systems, and additional rockets for new artillery systems that Ukraine will soon put in the field.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine is focused on the industrial city of Severodonetsk, and Russians forces appear close to consolidating control after weeks of intense battles.

Sergiy Gaiday — the governor of the Lugansk region, which includes the city — said Thursday around 10,000 civilians remain trapped in the city, out of a pre-war population of some 100,000.

Kyiv’s army is “holding back the enemy as much as possible,” he said on Telegram. “For almost four months they have dreamt of controlling Severodonetsk… and they do not count the victims.”

– Civilians trapped –

Moscow’s forces have destroyed the three bridges spanning a river between the city and Lysychansk.

Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a Severodonetsk chemical plant, which is under constant bombardment, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Russia said Ukrainian authorities had on Wednesday prevented an attempt at evacuating them.

From an elevated position in Lysychansk, an AFP team saw black smoke rising from the Azot chemical factory in Severodonetsk and another area in the city.

The head of the Severodonetsk city administration Oleksandr Stryuk told Ukrainian television on Thursday that there were about 500 civilians trapped in shelters at the plant.

“Fighting and constant shelling have been going on there for almost a week now,” he said, warning that the shelling could damage ammonia storage and trigger a chemical disaster. “It is a miracle that the whole city has not been affected.”

The Ukrainian military was using the high ground to exchange fire with Russian forces across the river.

– Seeking more arms –

Elsewhere, Russia launched a missile strike in Ukraine’s north-east Sumy region, killing four people and injuring six others, governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky said on Telegram.

In Brussels, Ukrainian defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov and other officials met with around 50 countries of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group at NATO headquarters asking for a surge in weapons and ammunition.

“Ukraine is really in a very critical situation and therefore, it’s an urgent need to step up,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told journalists ahead of two days of talks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meanwhile underscored that he was not as isolated internationally as his foes would wish with a call with China’s leader Xi Jinping, their second reported call since Russia attacked Ukraine.

China has refused to condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and has been accused of providing diplomatic cover for Russia by criticising Western sanctions and arms sales to Kyiv.

The United Nations warned a hunger crisis that has been worsened by the war in Ukraine, traditionally a breadbasket to the world, could swell already record global displacement numbers.

Addressing the food insecurity crisis is “of paramount importance… to prevent a larger number of people moving,” the United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi told reporters.

AFP

EU Beefs Up Fight Against Social Media Disinformation

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The EU is stepping up its fight against disinformation spread by accounts on Facebook, Google, Twitter and other social media with a bolstered code of practice presented Thursday.

The text — a reinforced revision of the code originally launched in 2018 — aims to push the platforms to more urgently and systematically crack down on false advertising, demonetise accounts spreading disinformation and boost fact-checking.

The code, obtained by AFP ahead of publication, remains voluntary.

But officials expect around 30 bodies to sign up, including some of the biggest social media companies, including Facebook parent Meta, Twitter, Microsoft and TikTok, along with big advertising corporations.

They all had input into the drafting of the updated code along with fact-checking outfits and media watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders (RSF by its initials in French).

It was to be presented Thursday by the EU commissioner for transparency, Vera Jourova, and internal market commissioner Thierry Breton.

The new code of practice contains some 40 commitments, around double the number in the previous version, along with indicators to measure how well they are being met.

While the previous text relied on self-regulation, the new one holds the biggest platforms — those with at least 45 million users in the EU — to binding measures set out in the bloc’s Digital Services Act (DSA).

The DSA, in the process of being adopted, requires big online companies to reduce risks linked to disinformation or face fines that could go as high as six percent of the global turnover.

By signing up to the code, they can show they are taking “risk-mitigating” measures demanded by the DSA.

One of the main innovations in the code is to cut advertising platforms off from receiving revenue from ads placed on sites carrying disinformation.

“The platforms shouldn’t be getting even a single euro from spreading disinformation,” Breton said.

“From Brexit to the Russian war in Ukraine — over the past years well-known social networks have allowed disinformation and destabilisation strategies to spread without restraint, even making money out of it,” he said.

– Reinforced fact-checking –

Platforms that front ads such as Google parent Alphabet — whose YouTube platform monthly gets nearly a quarter of the planet’s population using it — pledge to block advertisements with conspirational content and to verify where they come from.

They also commit to actively counter ads containing disinformation.

The signatories to the code have to give users tools to identify and report false or misleading information, and they need to cooperate more closely with fact-checkers in all EU languages. The fact-checkers also get added support, notably by having access to aggregated, anonymised data.

Unlike illegal content, disinformation won’t be subject to immediate deletion because of the principle of freedom of expression.

Rather it would trigger prompts to users to turn to sources of reliable information, notably ones meeting norms fixed by the Journalism Trust Initiative, of which RSF and AFP are partners.

The platforms also commit to making political advertising more transparent, clearly identifying them as such and letting users know why they were targeted.

The signatories commit to cracking down on fake accounts and the amplification of disinformation via bots, as well as identity theft and malicious deepfake videos.

AFP

EU Cuts Eurozone Growth Forecast As Ukraine War Bites

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The European Commission on Monday sharply cut its eurozone growth forecast for 2022 to 2.7 percent, blaming skyrocketing energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The war also spurred the EU’s executive to revisit its eurozone inflation prediction for 2022, with consumer prices forecast to jump by 6.1 percent year-on-year, much higher than the earlier forecast of 3.5 percent.

“There is no doubt that the EU economy is going through a challenging period due to Russia’s war against Ukraine, and we have downgraded our forecast accordingly,” EU executive vice president Valdis Dombrovskis said.

“The overwhelming negative factor is the surge in energy prices, driving inflation to record highs and putting a strain on European businesses and households,” he added.

The EU warned that the course of the war was highly uncertain and that the risk of stagflation -– punishing inflation with little or no growth — remained a real risk going forward.

If Russia, the EU’s main energy supplier, should cut off its oil and gas supply to Europe completely, the commission warned that the forecast would worsen considerably.

“Our forecast is subjected to very high uncertainty and risks,” EU commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told reporters.

“Other scenarios are possible under which growth may be lower and inflation higher than we are projecting today. In any case, our economy is still far from a normal situation,” he said.

For the EU as a whole, including the eight countries that do not use the euro as their currency, the commission had also forecast growth of four percent in February, but has now cut this to 2.7 percent, the same level as for the eurozone.

The sharp reduction in expectations is in line with the forecast made in mid-April by the International Monetary Fund, which predicted 2.8 percent growth for the eurozone this year.

The EU’s warning for the months ahead lands as the European Central Bank is increasingly expected to increase interest rates in July to tackle soaring inflation.

Critics warn that this could put a brake on economic activity just when the economy faced the headwinds from the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine Says Wants Spot ‘Reserved’ In EU

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky gestures as he speaks during a press conference following his talks with President of the European Council in Kyiv on April 20, 2022.
Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP

 

 

 

Ukraine wants a spot reserved in the European Union, even if obtaining full membership could take time, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Thursday in Berlin. 

“It is not about the fastest possible membership for Ukraine in the EU. But what is very important for us is for this spot to be reserved for Ukraine,” he told German broadcaster ARD.

“We hear often that Ukraine belongs in Europe, belongs in the European family, and now it’s about reserving this place,” he added.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned early this week that it would take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU.

Macron suggested instead that a broader European political community could be created to include members like Ukraine or post-Brexit Britain.

Kuleba said he did not have sufficient details to weigh up Macron’s suggestion for a wider European club.

But he said that “as far as we understand, the French proposal doesn’t contradict granting Ukraine EU candidacy status”.

The contrary would go against public statements made by EU leaders on how Ukraine is part of the European family, he warned.

“I can tell you right away that no alternative to European integration of Ukraine will be acceptable,” Kuleba added, speaking to journalists after he met leaders of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats.

Kuleba, who is in Berlin to meet political leaders of Europe’s biggest economy before heading to Weissenhaus to attend talks with counterparts from the G7 most industrialised nations, also took pains to smooth over any remaining tensions with German leaders.

He noted that Germany was now stepping up in the response against Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.

“We see that Germany has currently taken the leading role,” he said.

Kuleba said he will discuss further sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Another key topic, the minister said, is the battle against global food shortages sparked by the war.