Blair under attack in bid for EU top job
05.10.2009 @ 10:06 CET
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Eurogroup chief Jean Claude Juncker and the British Conservative party have attacked Tony Blair's bid to become the first EU president, as member states start horse-trading for the EU's top jobs after Ireland's Lisbon Treaty vote. Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen on Sunday (4 October) openly backed former British premier Mr Blair to take up the prestigious post once the treaty comes into force. "I've certainly the highest regard for Tony Blair and obviously we await and see if, in fact, he's a candidate, but you can take it that we'd be very supportive yes," he said.
William Hague, the Conservative shadow foreign secretary, told The Times that he was lobbying in Paris and Berlin against Mr Blair, whose appointment would trigger an anti-EU backlash in the UK ahead of a potential Tory-orchetsrated referendum on Lisbon. "There could be no worse way to sell the EU to the people of Britain," he said.A front page story in the mass-selling tabloid, The Sun, on Monday said Mr Blair would earn 4 million plus perks in an article which seemed designed to further damage his bid.
Jean Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and the head of the Eurogroup, the 16 EU states which use the euro, also came out against the former British leader. Mr Blair did little to bring the UK closer to Europe on issues such as the single currency.
Meanwhile, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner has signalled he would be interested in another plum job to be created under the Lisbon Treaty: the post of EU "foreign minister" and European Commission vice president. The Elysee itself is not giving Mr Kouchner a clear run at the post, with French EU affairs minister Pierre Lellouche over the weekend floating two other names, Hubert Vedrine and Michel Barnier.Mr Vedrine was foreign minister under President Francois Mitterand and a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq. Mr Barnier is a former EU commissioner and now an MEP.
Long flying hours are deadly, say protesting pilots
Today @ 09:26 CET
European pilots staged a series of protests in airports and cities across the region on Monday (5 October), calling for a reduction in flying hours to increase safety levels. In Brussels, uniformed pilots handed out fake boarding passes outside the European Commission and Parliament buildings, warning pedestrians about the dangers of pilot fatigue. "Pilot fatigue is considered to be a contributory cause to 15-20 percent of all fatal aircraft accidents," Martin Chalk, head of the European Cockpit Association (ECA), told journalists. "The effects of fatigue are as damaging as the effects of alcohol intoxication," he added.
The protests were organised by the ECA along with the European Transport Workers' Federation (EFT) and are aimed at putting pressure on the European Union, currently in the process of drafting new laws on flying hours.
Present EU rules allow for up to 14 hours flying time during the day and nearly 12 hours at night. However a scientific report the Moebus Report published last September recommends airline crew work no more than 13 hours during the day or 10 hours at night. The document says the risk of accident is five-and-a-half times greater when pilots work 13 hours or more.
"What we are saying today is that they need to listen to the safety review," said Mr Chalk."It was conducted by the best scientists in this field in Europe. It was commissioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and therefore it should not be ignored when writing the rules."The new EU rules on harmonised flying hours are set to come into force in 2012, with the EASA currently in the process of considering responses to a consultation on a first draft.
EASA hits back
The EASA hit back at the pilots on Monday, questioning the timing and real motivation behind the protests. "This is jumping the gun. It is not a constructive contribution to a debate which is yet to happen," Daniel Hoeltgen, EASA communications director told CNN.Mr Hoeltgen believes the protests are merely a first stage in an industrial debate between unions and airlines many of which have struggled to deal with the effects of the financial crisis. "It's got nothing to do with safety regulations. We have made it clear that we will invite the unions and the airlines to take part in a review of the current rules and the timeframe for that has been made clear," he said.
But the European Cockpit Association points to rules recently brought in by the US administration following a crash that killed 50 people in Buffalo, New York, this year. "Without hesitation, the US regulator has taken swift and decisive action," said the flyers distributed by pilots. The association, that represents over 38,000 pilots and flight engineers in 36 European countries, is also fighting for better working conditions for stewards.Here they cite another example in the US where a stewardess forgot to close the passenger door properly due to tiredness.
Sweden seeks scrutiny of EU battle groups
Today @ 09:29 CET
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The Swedish EU presidency wants defence ministers to have a closer look at the bloc's quick response forces, which so far have never been deployed due to a lack of consensus among member states.
"The concept of EU battlegroups is good, but they have not been used until now. We want to have a political discussion on why this is the case," Olof Skoog, a diplomat representing the Swedish EU presidency told members of the security and defence committee in the European Parliament on Monday (7 September).
Since January 2007, the EU has in theory always had two battlegroups on call, each comprising at least 1500 combat soldiers from one or several member states. The two battlegroups on call rotate every six months and are selected from a total of 18.
Set up for deployment within 5-10 days, the battlegroups are designed as rapid response forces in emergency situations, when the United Nations or Nato cannot intervene quickly enough. They need the unanimous approval of all EU member states in order to be deployed, which is the main reason why they have not been used so far.
Defence ministers will discuss the matter at the end of the month and possibly consider ways of making the mechanism more "flexible", for instance by deploying just parts of a battlegroup when needed.
The Swedish diplomat talked about "variations" in the political commitment of member states when it comes to making the battlegroup they contribute to really deployable.
The lack of sufficient strategic airlift in most member states meant that "you might have the troops, but no means of putting them on the ground" - which defeats the very rationale of a quickly deployable force.
As most of the Nato countries are also EU members, it is obvious that troops and technical equipment is scarce for both EU battlegroups and Nato missions, some MEPs noted.
"Co-operation with Nato is fundamental to the functioning of the battle groups," Socialist MEP and former Romanian defence minister Ioan Mircea Pascu said. "The same troops are used for the Nato reaction force and the EU battle groups, so it would be a nightmare for military planners if they didn't know what troops they are counting on."
British Conservative MEP Geoffrey van Orden called the EU battlegroups, as well as the whole European security and defence policy "a distraction from Nato and what is really meaningful" and deplored the Europeans' lack of interest in Afghanistan.
Coat of arms
Last year, Stockholm co-ordinated the set-up of the Nordic battle group in the first half of last year, comprising 2,800 soldiers mostly from Sweden and also from Finland, Norway, Ireland and Estonia. The endeavour cost Sweden more than 100 million.
"We made the investment in order for the battlegroup to be used," he said, noting that not all member states saw this in the same way.
Back then, Sweden had hoped to see the Nordic battlegroup deployed in the context of the Darfur crisis, but the EU countries could not agree on sending it. Instead, the EU took months to deploy the EUFOR mission to Chad and the Central African Republic.
Meanwhile, the Nordic battlegroup made headlines when its commander decided to 'castrate' the lion on the coat of arms. With civilian women often falling victim to sexual abuse in the war zones of the world, the commander explained, he did not consider the penis an appropriate symbol for his troops to wear into battle.
Lance corporal faces court martial for desertion after refusing to return
A soldier who is refusing to return to Afghanistan delivered a letter of protest to the prime minister today condemning the war. Lance Corporal Joe Glenton of the Royal Logistics Corps argues that British soldiers are being used to advance US foreign policy.
Glenton, thought to be the first British soldier to openly oppose government policy, faces a court martial for desertion because of his refusal to return to the frontline. He has already served in Afghanistan and is on leave, but was due to go back.
In a letter directly addressed to Gordon Brown, Glenton, who is married and comes from Yorkshire, said his fellow soldiers had become a tool of US foreign policy. "I believe this unethical short-changing of such proud men and women has caused immeasurable suffering not only to families of British service personnel who have been killed and injured, but also to the noble people of Afghanistan," he wrote.Glenton added that Afghans showed many of the same characteristics as British soldiers, such as "robustness, humour, utter determination and unwillingness to take a step backwards". He added: "However it is these qualities, on both sides, which I fear will continue to cause a state of attrition. These will only lead to more heartbreak within both our societies."
Glenton, who has been a soldier for five years and went on his first tour to Afghanistan in 2006, said he had to speak out against what he had seen."I want my feeling as a serving soldier to be known," he said. "I want the government to consider the welfare of the guys out there, and the Afghan people."There are serious issues that have to be addressed, people are suffering and it can't and shouldn't be allowed."His wife, Clare Glenton, whom he married in May this year, said his decision not to return to Afghanistan had been very difficult. "Joe has been battling with these issues since I met him," she said."Certainly what he cares about most is the lads he served with. It has been very difficult at times, he has not been himself. The fact that he has been brave enough to do this has brought us closer together."
Chris Nineham of the Stop the War Coalition said it
was a "very significant moment" in the campaign
against the Afghanistan conflict."There is no
question there is a lot of dissatisfaction and discontent
among the armed forces about Britain's involvement in
Afghanistan and Lance Corporal Glenton is the first
serving soldier to express these views."
Catholics alarmed by EU equal rights law
Today @ 09:15 CET
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Atheists could attack galleries for showing religious art and witches could claim the right to use church halls under a draft EU equal rights law, the Roman Catholic church has warned.The EU bill aims to curtail discrimination on grounds of religion, disability, age or sexual preference in social situations not covered by existing labour law, such as renting properties.The directive could enter into force in 2011 if member states give unanimous approval in discussions planned for November by the Swedish EU presidency.
The criticism was put forward in recent days by the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales as part of a British government consultation procedure.The bishops' group "commends" the EU effort to protect "the innate dignity of every person."But it calls for the legal text to soften a clause against creating an "offensive environment" and to add an exemption to let religious organisations "function in accordance with [their] ethos." "There is a risk that practical implementation may effectively turn the directive into an instrument of oppression against one or other group," the church paper, signed by bishops' conference general secretary Monsignor Andrew Summersgill, says."Homosexual groups ...may declare themselves offended by the presentation of the Catholic Church's moral teaching on homosexual acts; Catholics may declare themselves offended by a 'Gay Pride' march; an atheist may be offended by religious pictures in an art gallery.""It is not clear whether [the bill] would apply to the activities of a Catholic priest, if, as recently occurred, he were to refuse to take a booking for a Church Hall from a group of witches," it adds.
The European Parliament passed the draft law in April
by 363 votes against 226. Left-leaning and liberal MEPs
championed the bill. But centre-right deputies said it
will create too much red tape.