Buhari Rues Youth Migration, Seeks Europe’s Partnership To Halt Trend

A file photo of President Muhammadu Buhari.

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has lamented the mass migration of youths and is seeking partnership with European countries to halt the trend.

Buhari, who is Brussels, Belgium for the 6th EU-AFRICA, made the comment in an article published about the meeting.

“By 2050, Africa’s population of 1.3 billion is set to double, making up a quarter of the world’s total. My country, Nigeria, is set to double its population to 400 million by then, surpassing the United States to become the third-largest nation in the world.

“This means a huge youthful market right on Europe’s doorstep and — with increased trade — a growing middle class with money to spend,” Buhari said in the article published on the Politico, an online/offline magazine on Thursday.

“However, despite burgeoning possibility, irregular northward migration from my continent drains Africa’s talent pool, while provoking political crises in the EU. Despite its best efforts, Europe will not find a sustainable remedy to this problem by further reinforcing its Fortress Europe approach.

“Instead, more opportunities must be created for Africans at home, providing alternatives to the decision to take a life-threatening boat journey in order to seek them elsewhere. The relationship between the EU and Africa must be rebalanced to power job creation. Unfortunately, today’s arrangements do just the opposite.”

READ ALSO: PDP Governors Ask Buhari To Resign As Petroleum Minister

While explaining why Nigeria did not sign the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with Europe, he noted that agricultural subsidies in Europe are major blows to farmers on the continent. According to him, Africa is flooded with “artificially depreciated produce”, thus affecting competition.

“For instance, subsidy-driven surpluses of European milk are powdered and sent to Africa, decimating its dairy industry,” he said.

“It is a similar story when it comes to wheat and poultry production. Despite having the most underutilised arable land in the world, Africa remains a net food importer.”

The Nigerian leader noted that over €50 billion is pushed into markets in Europe to help them produce cheaper food. This, he explained, keeps Africa at the losing end.

“With its main export market distorted against them, African countries are deprived of foreign exchange, and investment in agriculture is stifled,” Buhari said.

No Plans To Quit Europe Amid Data Spat, Says Facebook’s Meta

This illustration photo taken in Los Angeles on October 28, 2021, shows a person using Facebook on a smartphone in front of a computer screen showing the META logo.  (Photo by Chris DELMAS / AFP)

 

Facebook’s parent firm Meta said Monday it has no plans to pull its services from Europe, after raising the possibility amid an ongoing row over transferring European data to the United States.

Data is central to the ad business that generates nearly all of the company’s billion of dollars in revenue, and frameworks that have overseen the transfer of information from the continent are now in limbo.

“We have absolutely no desire and no plans to withdraw from Europe, but the simple reality is that Meta, and many other businesses, organisations and services, rely on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate global services,” the firm said in a statement.

The crucial “Privacy Shield” online data arrangement between Europe and the United States was invalidated in July 2020 in a top EU court decision that threw transatlantic big tech into legal uncertainty.

READ ALSO: Buhari Launches National Policy On 5G, Says It Will Address Insecurity

Meta also noted in a filing Thursday to US market regulators that the bases it uses for data transfer are also in legal and regulatory jeopardy.

“If a new transatlantic data transfer framework is not adopted… we will likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe,” Meta wrote in its Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

European authorities and the US government are still talking through ways to resolve the issue.

The social media giant recently saw its worst-ever plunge in market value, after disappointing quarterly results that raised questions about its future.

Its signature Facebook platform saw a small dip in daily users globally at the end of 2021, the first such decline for a platform relentlessly focused on growth.

The company’s preoccupation with adding users was central to the whistleblower scandal last year, in which leaked internal documents underpinned press reports saying the company prioritized growth over safety.

AFP

US Deploys Troops To Support NATO In Ukraine Standoff

In this image released by the US Department of Defense, two NATO supply soldiers prepare to move to the location of their next mission during Allied Spirit 22 military exercise on January 31, 2022. (Photo by Alun Thomas / US DEPARTMENT OF STATE / AFP)

 

The United States said Wednesday it was deploying thousands of troops to bolster NATO forces in eastern Europe, ratcheting up its military response to fears that Russia could invade Ukraine.

Russia has massed than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, and Western leaders have warned that any incursion into the ex-Soviet nation would be met with “severe consequences.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said 1,000 US troops in Germany would deploy to Romania, and 2,000 based in the United States would be sent to Germany and Poland.

“It’s important that we send a strong signal to (President Vladimir) Putin and the world that NATO matters to the United States,” Kirby said, adding “this is not the sum total of the deterrence actions that we will take.”

“These forces are not going to fight in Ukraine,” he stressed. “They are not permanent moves. They respond to current conditions.”

As NATO leaders pursued diplomatic efforts to avert any invasion of pro-Western Ukraine, a senior Kremlin official stressed that Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping shared views on global security.

READ ALSO: #EndSARS Protest: Senate Calls For Holistic Reform Of Police Force

Russia denies any plans to invade its neighbor, with Putin accusing the West of failing to respect Moscow’s security concerns.

The Kremlin said China would explicitly back Russia’s stance when Putin visits Beijing for the opening of the Winter Olympics this week.

“China supports Russia’s demands for security guarantees,” the Kremlin’s top foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov told reporters.

Russian officials have demanded a ban on Ukraine joining NATO and on the deployment of missile systems near Russia’s borders, as well as a pullback of the US-led military alliance’s forces in eastern Europe.

– ‘Ukraine just a tool’ –

In his first major remarks on the crisis in weeks, Putin on Tuesday suggested Washington was using Kyiv as an instrument to potentially drag Moscow into a war.

“Ukraine itself is just a tool to achieve this goal” of containing Russia, Putin said.

Putin left the door open to talks however, saying he hoped that “in the end we will find a solution.”

The United States and NATO have provided written responses to Moscow’s demands, which Putin said he is studying.

Spanish newspaper El Pais on Wednesday published what it said were leaked copies of the responses, which showed Washington and NATO offering Moscow arms control and trust-building measures.

The proposals remain firm on insisting that Ukraine and any other country have a right to apply to join the alliance.

But the reported US response suggests “reciprocal commitments by both the United States and Russia to refrain from deploying offensive ground-launched missile systems and permanent forces with a combat mission in the territory of Ukraine.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was meanwhile the latest NATO leader to visit Kyiv in a show of support for Ukraine, where he met President Volodymyr Zelensky.

After the talks, Zelensky said Ukraine was focused “only on peace”, but insisted it has the right to defend itself.

The Ukrainian leader had met a day earlier with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was due to hold a phone call with Putin on Wednesday.

Tensions have been further aggravated by plans for joint military exercises between Russia and neighboring Belarus, where Washington claims Moscow is preparing to send 30,000 troops.

While stressing that “conflict is not inevitable,” Kirby on Wednesday accused Putin of continuing “to destabilize the environment by adding more forces to the western part of his country and Belarus.”

Video footage released by the Russian defense ministry on Wednesday showed tanks speeding across snowy fields in Belarus and combat helicopters flying overhead as units from both countries practised ahead of the February 10-20 drills.

Ukraine has been battling Moscow-backed insurgencies in two separatist regions since 2014, when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the fighting, the last major ongoing war in Europe.

AFP

Pope Hails ‘Hero’ Parents Who Flee Conflict With Children

Pope Francis celebrates the New Year's day mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on January 1, 2022. Tiziana FABI / AFP
Pope Francis celebrates the New Year’s day mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on January 1, 2022. Tiziana FABI / AFP

 

Pope Francis hailed parents who flee conflict to save their children as “heroes”, highlighting those “rejected at the borders of Europe”, in an interview published on Thursday.

“I think of many fathers, many mothers and many families that flee war, who are rejected at the borders of Europe and elsewhere, who experience situations of suffering and injustice and who no one takes seriously or willingly ignores,” he told Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano.

“I would like to say to these fathers, to these mothers, that for me they are heroes because I see in them the courage of those who risk their lives for love of their children, for love of their family.”

The Argentine pontiff, 85, is outspoken in his calls for support and understanding for migrants and asylum seekers.

He added: “I feel very close to the suffering of those families, of those fathers and mothers who are experiencing particular difficulty, worsened above all due to the (coronavirus) pandemic.”

“I think that not being able to feed one’s children, feeling the responsibility for the life of others, is suffering that is not easy to face. In this regard, my prayers, my closeness but also all the support of the Church is for these people, for these least ones,” he said.

WHO Warns Of Omicron Overload As China, Europe Impose New Curbs

File photo of WHO

 

The WHO warned Tuesday that the Omicron coronavirus variant could lead to overwhelmed healthcare systems even though early studies suggest it leads to milder disease, as China and Germany brought back tough restrictions to stamp out new infection surges.

China put hundreds of thousands more people under lockdown, while infections hit new highs in multiple US states and European countries.

Covid-19 surges have wreaked havoc around the world, with many nations trying to strike a balance between economically punishing restrictions and controlling the spread of the virus.

The United States has halved the isolation period for asymptomatic cases to try and blunt the disruption, while France has ordered firms to have employees work from home at least three days a week.

Contact restrictions were in place in Germany for the second year in a row heading into the New Year, as Europe’s biggest economy shuttered nightclubs and forced sports competitions behind closed doors.

Despite facing a much smaller outbreak compared with global virus hotspots, China has not relaxed its “zero Covid” strategy, imposing stay-at-home orders in many parts of the city of Yan’an.

The hundreds of thousands of affected residents there joined the 13 million people in the city of Xi’an, who entered a sixth day of home confinement as China battled its highest daily case numbers in 21 months.

“I’m about to be starved to death,” wrote one Xi’an resident on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.

“There’s no food, my housing compound won’t let me out, and I’m about to run out of instant noodles… please help!”

Many Xi’an residents have similarly complained on social media about the restrictions, which include a ban on driving and only one member of a household permitted to go outside for groceries every three days.

This lockdown is the most sweeping in China since the similarly-sized city Wuhan was cut off from the world in the early days of the pandemic.

– ‘Widespread disruption’ –

The surges in many countries have been propelled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

The WHO warned against complacency even though preliminary findings suggest that Omicron could lead to milder disease.

“A rapid growth of Omicron… even if combined with a slightly milder disease, will still result in large numbers of hospitalisations, particularly amongst unvaccinated groups, and cause widespread disruption to health systems and other critical services,” warned WHO Europe’s Covid Incident Manager Catherine Smallwood.

To hold back the tide, European nations brought back curbs with painful economic and social consequences.

Facing record-high infections, France stopped short of issuing a stay-at-home order but called on employers to make staff work from home three days a week where possible.

Sweden and Finland required negative tests for incoming non-resident travellers from Tuesday, a day after Denmark — which currently has the world’s highest rate of infection per capita — applied the same measure.

In Germany, private gatherings are now limited to 10 vaccinated people — or two households where any unvaccinated people are present — and nightclubs have been closed. All sports competitions will now be held behind closed doors.

“Something has to be done to bring the infection figures down,” a Berlin resident told AFP TV.

But not all accepted the measures.

Thousands of protesters went on the march across Germany late Monday against the curbs, with some hurling fireworks or bottles at police and leaving at least 12 officers injured.

– Travel chaos –

Beyond social strife, the pandemic has been punishing economically, in particular for sectors like travel.

Some 11,500 flights have been scrapped worldwide since Friday, and tens of thousands more delayed, during one of the year’s busiest travel periods.

Multiple airlines have blamed staffing shortages caused by spikes of Omicron cases.

The surge in the US has been fuelled by the Omicron variant, as well as large pockets of unvaccinated residents and a lack of access to quick and easy testing.

President Joe Biden said Monday some US hospitals could be “overrun” but that the country was generally well prepared.

He stressed that Omicron would not have the same impact as the initial Covid outbreak or the Delta variant surge this year.

“Omicron is a source of concern, but it should not be a source of panic,” Biden said.

In an effort to prevent mass labour shortages during the surge, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases from 10 to five days.

The US is the nation hit hardest by the pandemic, and is closing in on its daily high of 250,000 cases recorded last January.

AFCON: European Clubs Threaten To Withhold Players

AFCON trophy.

 

Europe’s top clubs are threatening not to release players for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon over fears surrounding its Covid-19 health protocol.

The European Club Association, which represents leading clubs across the continent, made its concerns known to FIFA in a letter seen by AFP.

“With regards to applicable protocols, as far as we are aware, CAF (the Confederation of African football) has not yet made available a suitable medical and operational protocol for the AFCON tournament, in the absence of which clubs will not be able to release players for the tournament,” the ECA told football’s world governing body.

READ ALSONFF Sacks Rohr, Appoints Eguavoen As Super Eagles Interim Manager

The Cup of Nations, which was already postponed last year due to the health crisis, is due to start in Cameroon on January 9 and run until February 6.

Many of Africa’s leading players are based at clubs in Europe, including Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City, Achraf Hakimi, and Idrissa Gana Gueye of Paris Saint-Germain.

The ECA also raised concerns about the danger of players being unavailable for even longer periods due to the potential for travel restrictions or mandatory quarantine being introduced, in particular in relation to the emerging threat posed by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

According to FIFA’s rules for the release of players for international duty during the pandemic, clubs can retain players if “there is a mandatory quarantine of at least five days on arrival” in the place “where a national team match is supposed to take place” or when the player returns to his club.

An executive board meeting of the ECA — which represents almost 250 European clubs — on December 2 said these principles “must be strictly respected”, according to the letter sent to FIFA Deputy Secretary General Mattias Grafstroem.

“Should this not be the case…players (should) not be released for international duty”.

 ‘Unmanageable’ 

Clubs could lose players who are called up for the 24-team tournament from as early as December 27, which is particularly problematic for those based in England, where there is a busy schedule of matches over the holiday period in late December and early January.

“For certain clubs expected to release players, including English and French clubs, domestic competition matches are due to take place up until early January and hence the overlap of the 2022 AFCON release dates…are unmanageable,” added the ECA, whose chairman is Qatar’s Nasser al-Khelaifi, also the president of PSG.

CAF general secretary Veron Mosengo-Omba is currently in Cameroon overseeing final preparations for the delayed tournament.

The organisation refused to comment on the ECA threat when contacted by AFP but, in an update on its website, said that Mosengo-Omba “urged everyone to work around the clock to ensure that everything is in place for the opening game”.

However, the pandemic would appear to pose a far bigger threat to the successful staging of the tournament than concerns about the host nation’s readiness.

The CAF update said its president, Patrice Motsepe, had been in discussions with the Cameroonian government “on sanitary approach and Covid-19 protocols”.

When contacted by AFP, a senior official in the Cameroonian Football Federation (Fecafoot) dismissed any suggestion the tournament could be called off as “fake news”.

AFP

COVID-19 Deaths Top 1.5 Million Across Europe

File photo of paramedics in front of a Hospital. Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

 

Europe on Thursday reached the grim milestone of 1.5 million coronavirus deaths as nations scramble to tackle a worsening crisis with winter approaching.

In response, France accelerated its Covid booster rollout and Germany, with fatalities and infections surging, weighed new measures.

With the world braced for the full onslaught of yet another wave, the EU’s medicines agency cleared a vaccine for children as young as five.

But South Africa reported a new worrying Covid-19 variant with devastating potential, the EU medicines agency cleared a vaccine for children as young as five.

In Paris, Health Minister Olivier Veran said Covid-19 booster shots, until now only available to people over 65 or with health problems, would be accessible to all adults starting this weekend.

READ ALSO: Lebanon Judges Resign To Protest Political Interference

From January 15, people over 18 would need to show proof of a top-up vaccine dose to maintain a valid Covid pass, which is required to enter restaurants, bars, gyms and other public venues.

The minister said the stringent measure could see France through the fifth wave without recourse to another lockdown, which the government is desperately trying to avoid.

Adding pressure, the EU Commission recommended that the bloc’s vaccination certificate should become invalid once the holder’s latest dose is more than nine months old.

 

– ‘Grim milestone’ –

The number of daily new cases in France hit a seven-month high of 32,591 on Wednesday but the burden of critical cases in hospital remains manageable — a fact experts put down to France’s energetic vaccination drive.

Neighbouring Germany meanwhile reported record coronavirus fatalities and infections Thursday as its total death toll passed 100,000 —  a “grim milestone”, said Bild daily — just as a new government prepared to replace Angela Merkel’s coalition.

Europe’s largest economy recorded 351 Covid fatalities in the past 24 hours, bringing the official death toll since the start of the pandemic to 100,119.

The weekly incidence rate also hit an all-time high of 419.7 new infections per 100,000 people, according to the Robert Koch Institute health agency.

The spike in Germany came as Europe re-emerged as the pandemic’s epicentre, with the continent battling sluggish vaccine uptake in some nations, the highly contagious Delta variant, colder weather sending people indoors and the easing of restrictions.

An AFP tally of official figures showed Thursday that more than 1.5 million people have died from Covid-19 in Europe.

Merkel’s presumed successor Olaf Scholz outlined a roadmap Wednesday by announcing new measures to tame the fourth wave.

These included forming a corona response task force based at his office and bonuses for overstretched health workers.

However, steps announced last week to limit the unvaccinated from participating in public life have already come under fire.

“The latest decisions are like announcing in a flooding catastrophe a plan to hire more swimming teachers and distributing a few water wings and rubber ducks,” Sueddeutsche newspaper fumed.

 

– ‘Acute overload’-

The German health sector has had to call on hospitals elsewhere in the EU for help. Some clinics are already facing an “acute overload”, according to Gernot Marx, head of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine.

Germany last week began requiring people to prove they are vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 or recently tested negative before they can travel on public transport or enter workplaces.

Several of the worst-hit areas have gone further, cancelling Christmas markets and barring the unvaccinated from bars, gyms and leisure facilities.

Germany’s Covid-19 crisis has in part been blamed on its relatively low vaccination rate of about 69 per cent, compared to other Western European countries such as France, where it is 75 per cent.

A campaign for booster shots has been marred by supply and logistics snags.

In an indication of what’s to come, scientists in South Africa said Thursday they had detected a new Covid-19 variant with multiple mutations, blaming it for a surge in infection numbers.

The variant, which goes by the scientific lineage number B.1.1.529, “has a very high number of mutations,” virologist Tulio de Oliveira said.

For Health Minister Joe Phaahla the variant was of “serious concern” and behind an “exponential” increase in cases.

Back in Europe, the Pfizer/BioNTech jab got the green light for five to 11 year-olds, clearing the way for the vaccination in an age group where the virus is rapidly spreading, and bringing the EU into line with the US, Israel and Canada.

The European Medicines Agency, using the jab’s brand name, said “the benefits of Comirnaty in children aged five to 11 outweigh the risks”.

AFP

President Buhari Returns To Nigeria After Europe, South Africa Trips

File Photo of President Muhammadu Buhari.

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has returned to the country after 16 days of official engagements in Europe and South Africa.

The President arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on Tuesday evening from Durban, South Africa, where he had attended the 2nd Intra-African Trade Fair 2021.

Before the South Africa visit, he had participated in the Paris Peace Forum in France, where he was also a guest of the French President, Emmanuel Macron.

Read Also: ‘Bandits Are Living In Fool’s Paradise’: Buhari Reacts To Sokoto Killings

President Buhari had also been in Glasgow, Scotland, where he participated in the 26th edition of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).

WHO Raises Alarm Over Rising COVID-19 Deaths In Europe

A picture of the billboard of the World Health Organization (WHO)

 

The World Health warned Monday that 236,000 more people could die from Covid in Europe by December, sounding the alarm over rising infections and stagnating vaccine rates across the continent.

The warning came as the world passed the grim milestone of 4.5 million deaths from Covid since the start of the pandemic, according to an AFP tally Monday.

Infections rates are ticking up globally again, as the highly transmissible Delta variant takes hold — especially among the unvaccinated — preying on populations where anti-virus measures have been relaxed.

In South Africa, scientists are monitoring a new coronavirus variant with an unusually high mutation rate.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases said Monday that C.1.2. can mutate almost twice as fast as other global variants

Its frequency remains relatively low, however, and it has so far been found in under three percent of genomes sequenced since it was first picked up in May — although this has increased from 0.2 to two percent last month.

READ ALSO: UN Council Adopts Afghanistan Resolution

But it has been detected in all South Africa’s provinces, as well as in China, Britain, New Zealand and Mauritius.

In another sign of renewed concern, the European Union on Monday recommended that member states reimpose travel restrictions on US tourists over rising covid infections in the country.

“Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia and the United States of America were removed from the list,” said a statement from the European Council, which represents the bloc’s 27 governments.

Case numbers in the United States have surged as the more infectious Delta variant has spread and large swathes of the population have refused to get vaccinated.

The head of WHO Europe said Monday that infections and deaths were on the rise again in Europe, particularly in poorer nations in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

“Last week, there was an 11 percent increase in the number of deaths in the region –- one reliable projection is expecting 236,000 deaths in Europe, by December 1,” WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said.

Europe has already registered around 1.3 million Covid deaths to date.

Of WHO Europe’s 53 member states, 33 have registered an incidence rate greater than 10 percent in the past two weeks, Kluge said, mostly in poorer countries.

High transmission rates across the continent were “deeply worrying, particularly in the light of low vaccination uptake in priority populations in a number of countries.”

Kluge said the Delta variant was partly to blame, along with an “exaggerated easing” of restrictions and measures and a surge in summer travel.

While around half of people in the WHO’s Europe region are fully vaccinated, uptake in the region has slowed.

“In the past six weeks, it has fallen by 14 percent, influenced by a lack of access to vaccines in some countries and a lack of vaccine acceptance in others.”

Only six percent of people in lower and lower-middle income countries in Europe are fully vaccinated, and some countries have only managed to vaccinate one in 10 health professionals.

– Vaccines for teachers –

Kluge stressed that since anti-Covid measures were being relaxed in many places, “the public’s vaccination acceptance is crucial”.

“Vaccine scepticism and science denial is holding us back from stabilising this crisis. It serves no purpose, and is good for no one.”

The WHO and UNICEF urged European countries to make teachers a priority group for vaccinations so schools can stay open.

As the summer holidays end, the agencies said it was “vital that classroom-based learning continue uninterrupted”.

“The pandemic has caused the most catastrophic disruption to education in history,” Kluge said.

The agencies urged countries to vaccinate children over the age of 12 who have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of severe Covid-19.

Outside Europe, hundreds of schools in the Indonesian capital Jakarta threw their doors open to students Monday.

But some parents resisted the return to in-person learning, just weeks after Indonesia overtook India and Brazil as the pandemic’s global epicentre.

“My daughter has not been vaccinated and the Delta variant is spreading like crazy,” Asmara Wreksono, mother of a third-grader, told AFP.

“I feel bad because my daughter misses her friends but my priority is to keep my child alive and healthy,” she added.

Indonesia reported its worst coronavirus surge in July, prompting lockdowns. Infections have since tapered, but in the past week an average of over 13,000 new cases have been registered daily.

In the US, meanwhile, a woman has won a court order for a hospital in Ohio to treat her husband, who is on a ventilator with Covid-19, with the antiparasitic medicine ivermectin, as demand surges for the unproven coronavirus treatment.

The case is one of several nationwide where courts have sided with litigants seeking to use the drug, despite scant evidence of its effectiveness against Covid and a rise in calls to poison centres as a result of misuse, including ingesting livestock-strength formulations.

Some 10,000 Covid deaths are now reported every day around the world, still a lower figure than the highs of January when an average of 14,800 people were dying daily.

AFP

Europe To Boost Battery Production As Electric Shift Accelerates

File: Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

 

As electric car sales take off and petrol engines face being phased out by 2035, Europe is looking to develop its own battery production base.

Far from being autonomous, Europe needs to accelerate domestic battery output as a national security issue as well as a boost for businesses and jobs.

Batteries that power electric cars and which weigh up to 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds), represent a considerable part of the vehicle’s value.

At the moment, they are mostly produced in Asia, with China, South Korea and Japan the leading manufacturers.

With a mid-July announcement that it intends to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2035, the European Commission has set a timetable for the bloc’s shift to electric cars.

Many carmakers, having sensed which way the wind is blowing with governments, have now announced plans to shift towards electric vehicles.

Germany’s Daimler was the latest, announcing last week that from 2025 it will launch only electric vehicle platforms as it gears up for a full shift to electric cars from 2030.

It is not only governments pushing the change, as the latest European data shows that electric cars doubled their market share in the second quarter of 2021.

– Giga plans –

If Europe is going to shift to electric cars, it will need lots of batteries.

After years of slow progress, there are now plans to invest 40 billion euros ($47 billion) in 38 European factories that could turn out 1,000 gigawatt hours of batteries per year, according to Transport & Environment, a non-governmental organisation.

With average battery capacity of 60 kilowatt hours, that would be enough to power 16.7 million vehicles, according to the group.

One initiative is Sweden’s Northvolt, which already has a factory under construction that is to produce batteries with total capacity of 150 gigawatt hours by 2030.

Volkswagen is a major partner, and the German carmaker is seeking to build five other factories as well.

Daimler, as part of its announcement this past week, said it would build eight battery factories worldwide for its Mercedes-Benz and Smart cars.

Stellantis, which includes 12 brands including Fiat, Chrysler, Jeep and Peugeot, plans to build five factories in Europe and North America.

Tesla expects to open its first European “gigafactory” near Berlin later this year, which it claims will be the world’s largest battery cell production site with 250 gigawatt hours of capacity in 2030.

EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic recently said the planned factories put the EU “well on track to achieve open strategic autonomy in this critical sector”.

– Partners needed –

That view is not shared by Olivier Montique, an automotive analyst at Fitch Solutions.

He said the planned facilities “will make the bloc a significant player in the space, but will not enable it to meet anywhere close to all of its internal demand for EV batteries.”

Montique said that is why automakers are still working with Asian battery makers.

China’s Envision AESC is partnering with Nissan and Renault to build factories in Britain and France.

South Korean firms LG Chem and SKI have plants in Poland and Hungary, while China’s CATL is building one in Germany.

– Lithium needed –

Raw materials are essential of course to manufacture batteries.

Car batteries currently use lithium-ion technology, similar to what powers most electronic devices today.

Unless there is a rapid breakthrough in solid-state batteries that could use other materials, huge amounts of lithium will be needed.

Europe has domestic sources of lithium, notably in the Czech Republic and Germany, but it will also probably have to depend on imports.

Montique said Europe would likely end up “developing supply agreements with markets where there are abundant resources, favourable diplomatic ties, and strong investment frameworks” to reduce the threat of shortages.

AFP

Europe Reels From Worst Floods In Years As Death Toll Nears 130

A picture taken on July 15, 2021, shows cars piled up by the water at a roundabout in the Belgian city of Verviers, after heavy rains and floods lashed western Europe, killing at least two people in Belgium. François WALSCHAERTS / AFP

 

 

Devastating floods have torn through entire villages and killed at least 128 people in Europe, most of them in western Germany where stunned emergency services were still combing the wreckage on Friday.

Unsuspecting residents were caught completely off guard by the torrent dubbed the “flood of death” by German newspaper Bild.

Streets and houses were submerged by water in some areas, while cars were left overturned on soaked streets after flood waters passed. Some districts were completely cut off.

“Everything was underwater within 15 minutes,” Agron Berischa, a 21-year-old decorator from Bad Neuenahr in Rhineland-Palatinate state, told AFP.

“Our flat, our office, our neighbours’ houses, everywhere was underwater.”

Europe Reels From Worst Floods In Years As Death Toll Nears 130
A man takes pictures of cars and rubble piled up in a street after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany, on July 16, 2021.
Christof STACHE / AFP

 

 

In nearby Schuld, Hans-Dieter Vrancken, 65, said “caravans, cars were washed away, trees were uprooted, houses were knocked down”.

“We have lived here in Schuld for over 20 years and we have never experienced anything like it. It’s like a warzone,” he said.

Roger Lewentz, interior minister for Rheinland-Palatinate, told Bild the death toll was likely to rise as emergency services continued to search the affected areas over the coming days.

“When emptying cellars or pumping out cellars, we keep coming across people who have lost their lives in these floods,” he said.

With five more dead found in the state by Friday evening, the nationwide death toll mounted to 108.

Adding to the devastation, several more people were feared dead in a landslide in the town of Erftstadt in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) triggered by the floods.

In neighbouring Belgium, the government confirmed the death toll had jumped to 20 — earlier reports had said 23 dead — with more than 21,000 people left without electricity in one region.

Calling the floods “possibly the most catastrophic our country has ever seen,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo declared Tuesday a day of national mourning.

Luxembourg and the Netherlands were also hammered by heavy rains, inundating many areas and forcing thousands to be evacuated in the city of Maastricht.

People stand in a devastated street in an area completely destroyed by the flood in the Blessem district of Erftstadt, western Germany, on July 16, 2021. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

Fearing the worst

In Germany’s hard-hit Ahrweiler district in Rhineland-Palatinate, several houses collapsed completely, drawing comparisons to the aftermath of a tsunami.

At least 24 people were confirmed dead in Euskirchen, one of the worst-affected towns.

“I fear that we will only see the full extent of the disaster in the coming days,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said late Thursday from Washington, where she met with President Joe Biden.

“My empathy and my heart go out to all of those who in this catastrophe lost their loved ones, or who are still worrying about the fate of people still missing.”

In Ahrweiler, around 1,300 people were unaccounted for, although local authorities told Bild the high number was likely due to damaged phone networks.

Lewentz told local media that up to 60 people were believed to be missing, “and when you haven’t heard from people for such a long time… you have to fear the worst”.

Soldiers of the German armed forces Bundeswehr search for flood victims in submerged vehicles on the federal highway B265 in Erftstadt, western Germany, on July 17, 2021 (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

Billions in damage

Gerd Landsberg, head of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, said the cost of the damage was likely to run into “billions of euros”.

In Belgium, the army has been sent to four of the country’s 10 provinces to help with rescue and evacuations.

The swollen Meuse river “is going to look very dangerous for Liege”, a nearby city of 200,000 people, warned Wallonia regional president Elio Di Rupo.

In Switzerland, lakes and rivers were also swelling after heavy overnight rainfall. In Lucerne in particular, Lake Lucerne had begun to flood the city centre.

Some parts of western Europe received up to two months’ worth of rainfall in two days on soil that was already near saturation, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

But there was some improvement Friday as the water level began to fall back.

Aerial view taken on July 15, 2021 shows the flooded village of Schuld, near Adenau, western Germany. Christoph Reichwein / dpa / AFP

Climate change?

The severe storms have put climate change back at the centre of Germany’s election campaign ahead of a September 26 poll marking the end of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Speaking in Berlin, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Germany would “only be able to curb extreme weather situations if we engage in a determined fight against climate change”.

The country “must prepare much better” in future, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said, adding that “this extreme weather is a consequence of climate change”.

Because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, climate change increases the risk and intensity of flooding from extreme rainfall.

In urban areas with poor drainage and buildings located in flood zones, the damage can be severe.

North Rhine-Westphalia premier Armin Laschet, the conservative running to succeed Merkel, called for “speeding up” global efforts to fight climate change, underlining the link between global warming and extreme weather.

AFP

Over 60 Migrants Feared Drowned Off Tunisia In Three Days

 

More than 60 migrants of sub-Saharan origin have been lost at sea off Tunisia since Saturday, after two Europe-bound vessels sank, local authorities and the Red Crescent have said.

Tunisia and neighbouring Libya are key departure points for migrants who attempt the dangerous crossing from the North African coast to Europe, particularly Italy.

So far this year more than 880 migrants have died trying to reach Europe from North Africa, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Since the start of the summer the number of crossings have increased as migrants take advantage of the good weather and calmer seas, but the numbers of those lost at sea has also risen.

The Tunisian coastguard retrieved the bodies of 21 migrants after their boat was shipwrecked on Sunday off the port city of Sfax, authorities said on Monday.

“Twenty-one bodies of migrants were recovered after their boat was shipwrecked on July 4, and 50 were rescued” off Sfax, National Guard spokesman Houcem Eddine Jebabli told AFP Monday.

He said the migrants, all from sub-Saharan Africa, had been trying to reach Europe.

On Saturday, the Tunisian Red Crescent had reported that 43 migrants were missing when a boat carrying more than 120 sunk off the southeastern coast in waters near Zarzis.

Tunisia’s defence ministry said eighty-four were rescued from that stricken vessel, which the Red Crescent said had set off from Libya’s coast.

The National Guard said Monday four boatloads of migrants had sunk since June 26 after setting off from Sfax, with the bodies of 49 people recovered and 78 rescued.

– ‘Fail to prioritise lives’ –

The number of migrants departing Tunisia for European shores last year hit its highest level since 2011.

During the first quarter of 2021, more than half of those arriving in Italy from Tunisia were citizens from sub-Saharan African countries, according to the Tunisian rights organisation FTDES.

The number of migrants attempting to cross from neighbouring Libya rocketed to 11,000 between January and April this year, according to UN refugee agency UNHCR.

The UNHCR says that “deteriorating” conditions of migrants in Libya and Tunisia are pushing many to risk the crossing.

The migrant rescue ship Ocean Viking has rescued 203 people, including 67 minors, in recent days, its owner SOS Mediterranee said Sunday.

The migrants came from Egypt, Gambia, Libya, South Sudan, Syria and Tunisia, the non-governmental organisation said in comments posted on Twitter.

A UN Human Rights Office report in late May urged Libya and the European Union to overhaul their search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

It found that existing policies “fail to prioritise the lives, safety and human rights” of people attempting to cross from Africa to Europe.

AFP