Weekly News 11 – 15 September 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs

Weekly News

Monday, 11 September 2017

Spain: Up to a million Catalans have gathered in Barcelona to call for independence less than three weeks before the region is due to hold a vote on whether to break away from Spain. For the sixth successive year, Catalonia’s national day – La Diada de Catalunya – was used as a political rally by the pro-independence movement. Organisers said 450,000 people had registered for the event, and Barcelona police later tweeted that 1 million turned up. (The Guardian)

Migration: UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Monday said he was “extremely disturbed by recent reports suggesting that armed groups are now stopping and detaining migrants trying to leave the country, possibly with the encouragement of some Member States of the EU”. “The EU and its member States must ensure that any cooperation agreement with Libya fully respects the rights and dignity of migrants,” added Zeid, recalling the impunity and illegality that prevail in some parts of the north African country. The commissioner also called upon the EU and its member states to ensure that NGOs still conducting search and rescue operations in the central Mediterranean are not endangered as a result of a reported change in attitude by Libyan coast guard authorities. (ANSAmed)

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Brexit: The government’s bid to extract the UK from EU law in time for Brexit has passed its first parliamentary test. MPs backed the EU Withdrawal Bill by 326 votes to 290 despite critics warning that it represented a “power grab” by ministers. The bill, which will end the supremacy of EU law in the UK, now moves onto its next parliamentary stage. Ministers sought to reassure MPs by considering calls for safeguards over their use of new powers. Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the Commons vote in the early hours of Tuesday morning, saying the bill offered “certainty and clarity” – but Labour described it as an “affront to parliamentary democracy”. (BBC)

France: Tens of thousands of hard-left trade unionists marched through French cities on Tuesday to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s labour law reforms, although turnout appeared lower than at demonstrations in previous years. Hitting back at Macron’s pledge to give no ground to “slackers”, some in Paris carried placards reading: “Slacker on Strike” while in Bordeaux demonstrators chanted: “Macron you’re screwed, the slackers are in the streets.” (France24)

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

EU: The failure to respect the rule of law excludes ”Turkey’s adhesion to the EU in the near future. Ankara for a long time has
been moving further away with giant steps”, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament on Wednesday. ”The EU will have more than 27 members but all States that want to adhere will have to put the rule of law in the first place”.”Journalist need to be able to express themselves and not be imprisoned”, added Juncker talking about the human rights situation in Turkey. ”You cannot offend our heads of government and State calling them Nazis”, he also said. (ANSAmed).

Albania: The new government of Albanian Socialist Premier Edi Rama on Wednesday morning won a vote of confidence in Parliament with 78 votes in favor and 51 against. The vote took place after a session of over 20 hours during which the program for the next four years was discussed. Rama, who was confirmed for a second mandate, promised an economic growth rate of 5.5-6% by 2021, thanks to public investments and the program ”One billion euros” to involve private  capital through joint public and private partnerships. (ANSAmed)

EU enlargement: Macedonia hopes it has done enough to convince the European Union to start accession talks while a quarter-of-a-century-long row with neighbouring Greece rumbles on, its foreign minister said on Wednesday. Greece has vetoed the ex-Yugoslav republic’s attempts to join both the EU and NATO because it says the name Macedonia implies a territorial claim over Greece’s own northerly region of Macedonia. Macedonia’s suggestion last month to use the name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM, as it does at other international bodies was not “immediately embraced” by Greece, Macedonia’s Foreign
Minister Nikola Dimitrov told Reuters. The two sides are set to meet again later this month at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Whatever the outcome, Macedonia wants the EU to agree that accession talks – which could take years – can at least get under way. (Reuters)

Tunisia: Tunisia’s parliament on Wednesday approved a controversial law granting amnesty to officials accused of corruption during the rule of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, triggering angry protests from the opposition and activists outside. Opposition lawmakers sang the national anthem and shouted slogans before the session was temporarily suspended. (Reuters)

EU State of the Union: Below is a brief summary of some of the key points of Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union speech.
On the economy:
Europe’s economic recovery has seen eight million jobs created and employment at record levels.
On finance policy:
The European Union should have a common finance minister, possibly drawn from the existing ranks of the commission.
On Turkey:
Turkey has pushed itself away from EU membership in the foreseeable future. It should leave journalists free to work and stop attacks on European leaders.
On expansion:
The EU will grow beyond its current 27 (excluding the UK) members.
On the Euro:
All EU states should join the euro and the European Commission is ready to help them make the transition.
On cyber security:
Cyber attacks can be more dangerous than guns and tanks so the EU will create a cyber security agency to ensure its defence.
On labour rules:
EU citizens should have the same working rights wherever they are, so the EU will set up a common labour market agency to regulate conditions.
On terrorism:
New unit should help the exchange of information about terrorists and foreign fighters. European public prosecutor should handle cross border prosecution of terrorism crimes.
On defence:
EU should have functioning defence union by 2025.
On migration:
Europe is not a fortress and should welcome those who seek refuge from persecution. However, those who come without justification should be expelled. Italy has led the way on the immigration issue, but other states have not shown enough solidarity.
On the organisation of the EU:
One president, rather than the current system with leaders representing the member states, the Commission and the Parliament, would better embody the unity of Europe.
On the EU budget:
The EU budget should be commensurate with its ambition and should not face cuts.
On Brexit:
Europe will move on, Brexit is not the end and the EU should use the opportunity to restate its mission. (Euronews)

Israel: Israel supports the establishment of a Kurdish state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, as Kurds in Iraq gear up for a referendum on independence that lawmakers in Baghdad oppose. Israel has maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s, viewing the minority ethnic group — whose indigenous population is split between Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran — as a buffer against shared Arab adversaries.(Reuters)

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Energy: The European Commission has drawn up plans to ensure that a new Russia-Germany gas pipeline – Nord Stream 2 – does not reshape EU energy markets for Russia’s gain. But the draft plan, a classified 10-page document seen by EUobserver, will only take effect if EU states agree, amid Germany’s likely preference for handling Nord Stream 2 without Commission involvement. (EU Observer)

Yemeni Civil war: Yemen’s Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi said on Thursday his group could target Saudi oil tankers should Saudi Arabia attack Yemen’s main port at Hodeida. “We could target Saudi oil tankers and we could do anything, we have not done this before,” he said. In a televised speech, the leader also said his group’s ballistic missiles were capable of reaching the United Arab Emirates’ capital of Abu Dhabi and anywhere inside Saudi Arabia. It was unclear whether the Houthi group has the capability to carry out its threats. (Reuters)

Spain: The government of Catalonia launched its official campaign for a referendum on independence from Spain on Thursday.
Crowds filled a bull ring in the northeastern city of Tarragona, shouting “We will vote!” as regional president  Carles Puigdemont arrived to rally support for the October 1 vote.

Turkey: France’s foreign minister called on Thursday for a rapid resolution in the case of a French journalist seized by Turkish security forces on the Iraqi border last month, so that he can return to his family. Loup Bureau was held by Turkish border guards on the frontier with Iraq in early August after he was found to have photographs and interviews with Kurdish militia fighters among his possessions. (Reuters)

Iraq: More than 80 people are now reported dead in southern Iraq where so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for three suicide attacks on Thursday. The killers are said to have worn security force uniforms and driven stolen army vehicles as they targeted a police checkpoint and restaurants near the city of Nassiriya. Hospital sources say at least 10 Iranian pilgrims, who were visiting holy Shi’ite shrines, are among the dead.

Tunisia: Tunisian Justice Minister Ghazi Jeribi on Thursday signed a measure cancelling a provision dating back to November 5,
1973, which prevented Tunisian women from marrying non-Muslim men. This was one of the last measures stemming from Islamic law that went against the gender equality of citizens. So far, such marriages were only possible if the man converted to Islam in front of a Mufti of the republic, which provided a certificate to be presented to civil authorities. Christian or Jewish women were instead allowed to marry a Muslim. (ANSAmed)

Migration: The decreasing number of migrants along the central Mediterranean route is ”the outcome of a well-coordinated
cooperation with countries in the region and Italy’s role as pioneer, with minister Minniti. Everything was done with
clarity and transparency, there were no hidden channels or behind-the-scenes talks”, said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the
EU commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship. The commissioner was responding to allegations about Europe
funding militias in Libya to stop the inflow of migrants. (ANSAmed)

Friday, 15 September 2017

UK: The detonation of a device aboard a subway train in the British capital on Friday was being investigated as terrorism, police said. Authorities confirmed 29 people had been injured at Parsons Green Tube station in southwest London. None of their wounds — mostly superficial burns — were considered serious or life-threatening. Investigators were examining the remains of an improvised explosive device. ISIS made its customary claim of responsibility for the attack, without providing any supporting evidence. (NBC)

France: Two women were injured on Friday by an attacker wielding a hammer and shouting Allahu Akbar in the eastern French town of Chalon-sur-Saone in Burgundy, local officials said. The local prosecutor’s office said witnesses of the attack in a public park of the town centre heard the attacker shout Allahu Akbar while hitting the women, who were taken to hospital but whose life is not in danger. (Reuters)

France: Turkey on Friday released French journalist Loup Bureau who was seized by security forces on the
Iraqi border last month, his lawyer said on Friday. (Reuters)

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