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The European Union (EU) and Canada have struck a free trade agreement aimed at boosting growth and employment.

The deal will lower tariffs, streamline regulation, and cut red tape.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Canadian PM Stephen Harper agreed the deal at a meeting in Brussels on Friday.

Jose Manuel Barroso said they had reached a “breakthrough in negotiations” to achieve “a great agreement for both the European Union and Canada”.

The deal still requires approval by parliaments and EU member states.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Canadian PM Stephen Harper agreed the deal at a meeting in Brussels

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Canadian PM Stephen Harper agreed the deal at a meeting in Brussels

Once approved, the agreement aims to make it easier for companies in Canada and the 28-member EU bloc to invest in and sell to each other.

The EU is Canada’s second-largest trading partner behind the US.


Stephen Harper said the agreement was “the biggest (trade) deal our country has ever made”. It will give Canada access to a market of some 500 million people in the EU, making it bigger even than the country’s North American Free Trade Agreement signed with the US and Mexico.

The European Commission expects the deal to increase bilateral trade in goods and services by a fifth to 25.7 billion euros ($35 billion) a year.

The EU is negotiating trade pacts with more than 80 countries on behalf of the bloc’s members following the collapse of the Doha global trade talks.

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Italy has decided to hold a state funeral for the hundreds of migrants who died after their boat capsized close to the island of Lampedusa last Thursday.

PM Enrico Letta made the announcement during a visit to the island with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Jose Manuel Barroso pledged 30 million euros ($40 million) of EU funds to help refugees in Italy.

At least 274 people, mostly from Eritrea and Somalia, died in the wreck.

Of more than 500 people on board, only 155 have survived. Divers are recovering bodies.

It is one of Italy’s worst disasters involving a boat carrying Europe-bound migrants from Africa.

Lampedusa is a key destination for such boats and many residents have long complained that the authorities in Italy and the European Union are not doing enough to deal with the thousands of migrants who come ashore each year.

Jose Manuel Barroso and Enrico Letta visited the temporary mortuary holding the coffins of the victims and met survivors and those who had helped in the rescue.

The two men were heckled on their arrival in Lampedusa, with shouts of “disgrace” and “killers”.

Italy will hold a state funeral for the migrants who died after their boat capsized close to the island of Lampedusa

Italy will hold a state funeral for the migrants who died after their boat capsized close to the island of Lampedusa

Speaking at a joint news conference, Jose Manuel Barroso said he would never forget the sight of hundreds of coffins.

“It’s something, I think, one cannot forget: coffins of babies, coffins of a mother and a child that was born at that moment,” he said.

“This is something that profoundly shocked me.”

Jose Manuel Barroso said he also met survivors who had retained hope, and it was now the duty of the EU “to give reason for that hope”.

He said 30 million euros would help Italy to settle its refugees, and listed a range of measures the EU must undertake including focusing their efforts on the people smugglers and the countries where most of the migrants are coming from.

Jose Manuel Barroso also said the EU parliament would be voting on a plan to launch Mediterranean-wide search and rescue patrols to intercept migrant boats.

The European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstroem, said on Tuesday she had asked the EU’s Frontex border agency to draw up a “concrete proposal” for an operation that would allow better tracking, identification and rescue of migrant boats.

Frontex currently helps Italy to intercept migrant boats, but the two EU operations in the southern Mediterranean have limited resources – a total of four ships, two helicopters and two planes.

PM Enrico Letta said a great human drama was unfolding on Lampedusa and pledged to put the issue of migration at the centre of the EU agenda.

The two were met upon their arrival in Lampedusa by a small group of activists and local residents who shouted “shame”, “disgrace” and “killers” at the airport gates.

“They should be ashamed of themselves. They should solve this humanitarian problem,” one protester was quoted by Agence France-Presse news agency as saying.

The 66ft boat that sank last Thursday with more than 500 migrants on board had set off from Libya and was close to Lampedusa when, according to survivors, the engine failed.

In order to attract attention from passing boats, a small fire was lit which caused the passengers to panic and move towards one side of the boat which led to the capsizing, the survivors said.

Divers said they found dozens of bodies entwined together in the hull of the boat which lies about 155ft below the surface of the sea.

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Starting with 1st of July 2013 Croatia has become the 28th member of the European Union, with crowds joining celebrations in the capital Zagreb.

Fireworks lit the sky as membership became effective at midnight on Sunday, with President Ivo Josipovic describing the event as historic.

It comes almost two decades after Croatia’s brutal war of independence.

But correspondents say enthusiasm for the EU in the country has been dampened by the eurozone crisis, and Croatia’s own economic problems.

Celebrations took place in the central square of Zagreb, with fireworks and music including Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the European anthem.

“Welcome to the European Union!” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in Croatian to the cheering crowd.

President Ivo Josipovic said it was “a great and joyful day for our homeland”.

“This the day when we open a new chapter in the thick book of our history,” he added.

Starting with 1st of July 2013 Croatia has become the 28th member of the European Union

Starting with 1st of July 2013 Croatia has become the 28th member of the European Union

Earlier he told a meeting of EU and regional leaders: “The accession of Croatia to the European Union is confirmation that each one of us belongs to the European democratic and cultural set of values.”

Croatian officials then unveiled EU signs and removed customs posts at the borders with Slovenia, the first former Yugoslav republic to have joined the bloc, and with Hungary.

Croatia is the first new EU member since Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2007. It is 10 years since it applied.

Croatia’s split from Yugoslavia triggered a 1991-1995 war to secure its independence.

But with one in five unemployed and Croatia’s national debt officially classed as junk, some Croatians feel joining an economic bloc with its own serious troubles will do little to improve their prospects.

“Just look what’s happening in Greece and Spain! Is this where we’re headed?” asked pensioner Pavao Brkanovic in a market in the capital.

“You need illusions to be joyful, but the illusions have long gone,” he told Reuters news agency.

Concerns about Croatian corruption and organized crime remain among some EU leaders, and Croatia will not yet join the single currency nor the visa-free Schengen zone.

But advocates of EU membership say despite this, their case remains a persuasive one.

Two-thirds of Croatians voted in favor of accession last year.

“It’s important for us primarily for the long term guarantees of political stability and then everything else – the single market too,” said Croatia’s First Deputy Prime Minister, Vesna Pusic.

The EU itself has given Croatia a clean bill of health – and praised reforms which improve the rule of law and tackle corruption.

It hopes the other countries of the former Yugoslavia will be encouraged to join – and secure long-term peace for an historically turbulent region.

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The European Commission has announced it will allow some EU member states to slow their pace of austerity cuts, amid concerns over growth.

France, Spain, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands and Slovenia are all being given more time to complete their austerity plans.

France will get two more years to bring its budget deficit below 3% of GDP.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the extra time must be “used wisely” to lift competitiveness.

The measures came as part of the European Commission’s country-specific recommendations.

Spain, Poland and Slovenia will also get two more years to bring down their budget deficits though spending cuts and tax increases.

The Netherlands and Portugal are having their timetables extended by one year.

Even Europe’s stronger economies, including Germany, are being urged to allow wage increases and increase flexibility in the jobs market to improve competitiveness.

Europe remains broadly in recession. The 17-member eurozone shrank by 0.2% in the first three months of the year, and is expected to register negative growth for 2013 as a whole.

The European Commission has announced it will allow some EU member states to slow their pace of austerity cuts, amid concerns over growth

The European Commission has announced it will allow some EU member states to slow their pace of austerity cuts, amid concerns over growth

There has been concern that the focus on fiscal consolidation in many EU states has worsened the economic situation.

Earlier, the OECD called on the European Central Bank (ECB) to do more to boost growth.

This month, the central bank in Frankfurt cut interest rates to a record low of 0.5% and said it was “ready to act if needed”.

In an official statement, the Commission said the extra time should be used to enact reforms.

“Giving more time for certain member states to meet their agreed objectives is designed to enable them to accelerate efforts to put their public finances into order and carry out overdue reforms,” it said.

“Reform efforts must be stepped up to credibly produce the required outcomes within the new deadlines and excessive deficits must be corrected.”

Jose Manuel Barroso stressed that the decision to allow some member states to slow the pace of austerity was made on purely economic and financial grounds, rather than for political reasons.

Speaking about the new timetable for France, he said the message remained “very demanding”.

“The extra time should be used wisely to address France’s failing competitiveness … I believe there is a growing consensus now in France about the need for those reforms,” he said.

Figures released earlier this month showed that France had entered its second recession in four years after the economy shrank by 0.2% in the first three months of 2013.

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The head of the European Commission has told the European Parliament he wants EU-wide exchange of income data as part of the fight against tax evasion.

Jose Manuel Barroso said he would urge Wednesday’s summit of EU leaders to support automatic exchange of people’s earnings data between tax authorities.

Tax evasion costs EU states 1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) a year, more than was spent on healthcare in 2008.

MEPs are expected to call for a Europe-wide blacklist of tax havens.

Pressure is likely to be put on Switzerland to relax banking secrecy amid anger over revelations about Greek and French politicians holding secret Swiss bank accounts.

The debate comes a day after UK Prime Minister David Cameron urged British overseas territories which operate low-tax regimes to “get their house in order” and sign up to international treaties on tax.

Jose Manuel Barroso said he wanted to see the principle of automatic exchange “become the standard at international level as well”.

The US Senate is currently scrutinizing the low global tax payments of Apple Inc and its subsidiaries in the Republic of Ireland in particular.

The main subsidiary, a holding company that includes Apple’s retail stores throughout Europe, has not paid any corporate income tax in the last five years, a Senate memorandum says.

In his speech to the parliament, Jose Manuel Barroso asked: “How can we explain to honest households and businesses who are feeling the squeeze yet still paying their fair share of taxes, that there are other parts of society and enterprise who are deliberately avoiding paying up?”

Jose Manuel Barroso said he would urge Wednesday's summit of EU leaders to support automatic exchange of people's earnings data between tax authorities

Jose Manuel Barroso said he would urge Wednesday’s summit of EU leaders to support automatic exchange of people’s earnings data between tax authorities

A trillion euros was, he said, “a huge amount of money to simply let through the net”.

He said he would make a call at Wednesday’s summit of EU leaders for the EU to adopt automatic exchange of income information on 1 January 2015.

EU tax authorities, he pointed out, already automatically exchanged information for income such as employment, pensions and insurance but he was proposing to include “all relevant types of income, such as dividends and capital gains”.

Austria, which has a strong tradition of banking secrecy, would support EU efforts to exchange information on foreign depositors, Chancellor Werner Faymann was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

“We won’t be the ones who put on the brakes and block things, and not the ones whose concerns put up blockades,” he said.

He noted that 1 trillion euros was “pretty much exactly the EU budget for the next seven years”.

Europe’s cash-strapped governments cannot afford to lose a single cent in tax revenue, let alone 1 trillion euros a year.

At Tuesday’s debate, non-EU member Switzerland is expected to come under pressure to put in place new rules.

Even top Swiss bankers now admit time is running out for its trademark banking secrecy.

Last week EU finance ministers agreed to start talks with Switzerland, along with Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and San Marino, on swapping bank account information.

Attempts to tighten up on tax evasion follow a furor in Greece over the so-called Lagarde list, containing the names of more than 2,000 Greeks including senior politicians with Swiss bank accounts.

More recently, France’s Socialist government was hit by a scandal, as former Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac was forced to resign over tax fraud allegations.

He later admitted that he had hidden about 600,000 euros in a Swiss bank account.

The presidents of the EU’s three main institutions have collected the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.

The EU was awarded the prize for its role in uniting the continent after two world wars.

At the ceremony there was applause when the leaders of France and Germany stood up, holding hands.

Critics say the award is inappropriate. They point out that the eurozone crisis has exposed deep divisions in the 27-nation bloc.

Most of Europe’s national leaders were at the event, but not the UK’s David Cameron.

The British prime minister’s deputy, Nick Clegg – a longstanding advocate of the European project – represented the UK at the ceremony.

Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland told the audience that in the current economic crisis “the political framework in which the union is rooted is more important than ever”.

“We must stand together, we have collective responsibility,” he said, warning of a risk of new nationalism in Europe.

The prize was received jointly by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Parliament President Martin Schulz. Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso then gave a joint acceptance speech, in two parts.

The presidents of the EU's three main institutions have collected the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo

The presidents of the EU’s three main institutions have collected the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo

Herman Van Rompuy paid tribute to the post-war leaders of France and Germany who had forged the EU by uniting their economic interests.

He praised “the EU’s secret weapon – an unrivalled way of binding our interests so tightly that war becomes impossible”.

“It is better to fight around the table than on a battlefield,” he said, quoting Jean Monnet, one of the EU’s founders.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sat next to French President Francois Hollande at the ceremony in Oslo City Hall.

Herman Van Rompuy said the economic crisis was fuelling “the return of long-forgotten faultlines and stereotypes”, but added: “Even such tensions don’t take us back to the darkness of the past.”

He ended by adapting the famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” quote from the late President John F. Kennedy during the Cold War.

He said he hoped future generations would “say with pride <<Ich bin ein Europaer>>, <<Je suis fier d’etre Europeen>>, <<I’m proud to be European>>.”

Four young Europeans, selected through an open EU competition, were in the delegation with equal status alongside the politicians.

The European Commission, which drafts EU laws, says the Nobel Prize money – about 930,000 euros ($1.2 million) – “will be allocated to children that are most in need”.

There has been a barrage of criticism – from Euroskeptics, peace activists and former winners of the prize.

Many of them question whether the EU should be given such an honor at a time when record unemployment and tough austerity policies, supported by European institutions, are causing serious social tensions in several member states.

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EU leaders are to begin talks on the bloc’s 2014-2020 budget, with many of them calling for cuts in line with the savings they are making nationally.

Countries that rely heavily on EU funding, including Poland and its ex-communist neighbors, want current spending levels maintained or raised.

The UK and some other net contributors say cuts have to be made. At stake are 973 billion euros ($1,245 billion).

The bargaining in Brussels will continue on Friday, or even longer.

The draft budget – officially called the 2014-2020 Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) – was drawn up by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who made cuts to the European Commission’s original plan.

France objects to the proposed cuts in agriculture, while countries in Central and Eastern Europe oppose cuts to cohesion spending – that is, EU money that helps to improve infrastructure in poorer regions.

They are the biggest budget items. The Van Rompuy plan envisages 309.5 billion euros for cohesion (32% of total spending) and 364.5 billion euros for agriculture (37.5%).

The EU budget is a small fraction of what the 27 member states’ governments spend in total.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says another summit may be necessary early next year if no deal can be reached in Brussels now.

In a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday, the EU Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, complained: “No one is discussing the quality of investments, it’s all cut, cut, cut.”

Arriving in Brussels, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said: “These are very important negotiations.

“Clearly at a time when we are making difficult decisions at home over public spending it would be quite wrong, it is quite wrong, for there to be proposals for this increased extra spending in the EU.”

David Cameron, who was due to meet Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, has warned he may use his veto if other EU countries call for any rise in EU spending. The Netherlands and Sweden back his call for a freeze in spending, allowing for inflation.

Any of the 27 countries can veto a deal, and the European Parliament will also have to vote on the MFF even if a deal is reached.

Failure to agree would mean rolling over the 2013 budget into 2014 on a month-by-month basis, putting some long-term projects at risk.

If that were to happen it could leave David Cameron in a worse position, because the 2013 budget is bigger than the preceding years of the 2007-2013 MFF. So the UK government could end up with an EU budget higher than what it will accept now.

The European Commission says that the EU budget accounts for less than 2% of public spending EU-wide and that for every euro spent by the EU the national governments collectively spend 50 euros.

European Union leaders have agreed to set up a single eurozone banking supervisor – a major step towards a banking union.

A legislative framework is to be in place by January 1st 2013, with the body starting work later next year.

The European Central Bank-led mechanism will have the power to intervene in any bank within the eurozone.

The deal appears to be a compromise between France and Germany, who earlier disagreed over the timing and over the number of banks the ECB would oversee.

The timetable remains important, because only when the body is fully operational will the eurozone’s rescue fund inject cash directly into ailing banks – so important for countries like Spain.

The deal was, at best, an uneasy compromise between the French and Germans and much wrangling lies ahead.

France and the EU Commission wanted joint banking supervision, with the ECB in the lead role, to become operational in January 2013.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that national budget discipline should be the priority.

Germany had been at odds with the European Commission over the scope of the proposed ECB supervision. Under the draft plan, all 6,000 banks in the 17-nation eurozone would be included – Germany wanted it limited to the biggest, “systemic” banks.

Previously, the German government has expressed a desire to retain supervisory responsibility within Germany over the country’s Landesbanks – state-owned banks that play a key role in the economies and state finances of Germany’s federal regions.

Announcing the result of talks early on Wednesday, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the 27 EU member states had agreed to set up – by the end of this year – “a Single Supervisory Mechanism [SSM], to prevent banking risks and cross-border contagion from emerging”.

“Once this is agreed, the SSM could probably be effectively operational in the course of 2013,” he said.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that the ECB “will be able to intervene if needed in any bank in the euro area”.

With new supervisory powers the ECB would be able to act early on to prevent a systemically dangerous accumulation of debt on a bank’s balance sheets.

And once the legal framework is in place the new permanent rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), will be able to recapitalize struggling banks directly, without adding to a country’s sovereign debt pile.

ECB supervision will not extend to the UK – Europe’s main financial centre, but outside the euro.

It is more than a theoretical possibility that the interests of the UK and City of London in shaping financial rules will be systematically ignored or overridden, he says.

Both Germany and France appeared to be claiming victory in the negotiations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the agreement was that “banks must be supervised in a differentiated way. That means that some will be direct… at the ECB level and others indirectly, via the national authorities.”

She also said that ECB President Mario Draghi had told her it would be a matter of some months before the ECB was ready to take on its new role.

Angela Merkel confirmed that the EU bailout funds would not be used to directly inject risk-absorbing capital into troubled eurozone banks until the new supervisory arrangements were in place.

A decision about how to recapitalize Spain’s banks will be made in the next couple of weeks, according to Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs the Eurogroup of finance ministers.

French President Francois Hollande said there had been no discussion of a possible request by the Spanish government for a bailout of its own finances.

But he said “the worst is behind us”.

“We are on track to solve the problems that for too long have been paralyzing the eurozone and made it vulnerable,” Francois Hollande told a news conference.

EU leaders agreed that the ECB’s new bank supervisory responsibilities would be strictly separated from its role in setting monetary policy.

The banking union plan is fraught with legal complications, as it would give more powers to the ECB and possibly weaken those of national regulators.

There is speculation that it could lead to treaty changes – something that has caused big headaches for the EU in the past.

The UK wants safeguards to protect the powers of the Bank of England.

Jose Manuel Barroso said the arrangement would be “as inclusive as legally possible for non-euro members to join if they want to”.

Earlier, Angela Merkel called for the EU to be given the power to veto member states’ budgets. She said the EU economics commissioner should be given clear rights to intervene when national budgets violated the bloc’s rules.

 

Germany has called on countries using the euro to take decisive steps to bring about closer fiscal integration.

Berlin wants the EU’s 27 countries to consider pooling more economic sovereignty at a summit in Brussels which begins on Thursday.

French President Francois Hollande says an end to the eurozone crisis is “very close” and wants a deal agreed on the first stage of a banking union.

But Germany argues that the proposed deadline is unrealistic.

The proposal for a single banking regulator was agreed at the EU’s June summit.

But Berlin says there will be no final decision in Brussels because of concerns about plans for the regulator to supervise an estimated 6,000 banks across the eurozone.

Germany wants to continue regulating its financial institutions and is unhappy with a plan eventually to hand the European Central Bank full supervisory control.

Instead, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has proposed a more powerful role for the EU Economic and Monetary Commissioner in regulating national budgets. Chancellor Angela Merkel is understood to back his idea.

The commissioner should have the ability to veto a budget if it breaks deficit rules, the finance minister argues.

In setting out plans for full fiscal union, Wolfgang Schaeuble has set out a fairly ambitious negotiating position.

The finance minister’s plan would require a convention to be set up next year in order to change EU treaties, but many eurozone countries believe other priorities should be addressed first, our correspondent says.

“We are all taking part in this solidarity, not only the Germans,” Francois Hollande said in a newspaper interview.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned on Wednesday that a lack of convergence towards a closer union was “nourishing populist debates ultimately to put an end to this project”.

“It is clear that the euro area needs to evolve to a fiscal union… and ultimately a political union,” Jose Manuel Barroso told the centre-right European People’s Party congress in Bucharest.

The Brussels summit will take place against a backdrop of calmer European stock markets than in previous meetings and less concern over the debt crises in Spain and Greece.

Although Greeks are set to hold a general strike on Thursday, the Athens government and its international creditors are said to have reached a deal on the austerity measures needed before the next bailout installment is handed over.

“I am confident we are doing everything we have to do in order to get it soon so that we can move towards recovery,” Greek PM Antonis Samaras said.

Although there is growing speculation that Spain will soon ask for eurozone help in tackling its debt crisis, Madrid has seen its borrowing costs fall and may not ask for any aid at all.

 

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has called for the EU to evolve into a “federation of nation-states”.

Addressing the EU parliament in Strasbourg, Jose Manuel Barroso said such a move was necessary to combat the continent’s economic crisis.

He said he believed Greece would be able to stay in the eurozone if it stood by its commitments.

Jose Manuel Barroso also set out plans for a single supervisory mechanism for all banks in the eurozone.

He called the plans a “quantum leap… the stepping stone to the banking union”.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has called for the EU to evolve into a federation of nation-states

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has called for the EU to evolve into a federation of nation-states

The European Central Bank would get much greater powers of oversight and regulation of Europe’s 6,000 banks under the plan.

Jose Manuel Barroso said he was not calling for a “superstate”, but rather “a democratic federation of nation states that can tackle our common problems, through the sharing of sovereignty”.

“Creating this federation… will ultimately require a new treaty,” he said.

The inability of governments thus far to respond effectively to economic developments was “fuelling populism and extremism in Europe and also elsewhere”, he added.

The banking union would be a big first step in the creation of closer union within the eurozone.

There will be opposition to the plans – the German government, for example, says far fewer banks should be involved.

Britain does not want to take part but supports the idea of a single supervisor for the eurozone, as long as it does not affect the integrity of the wider EU single market.

 

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso is heading to Athens for talks on Thursday amid concern over whether Greece has done enough to get its next tranche of bailout loans.

It is his first visit for three years and he is expected to say the EU wants Greece to stay in the eurozone.

But there will be tough talking behind the scenes, analysts say.

Greece’s international lenders are also in Athens in an attempt to get deficit cutting measures “back on track”.

After months of political deadlock and two general elections earlier this year, Greece is struggling to meet the economic targets it has accepted as a condition of its bailouts.

Jose Manuel Barroso is heading to Athens for talks on Thursday amid concern over whether Greece has done enough to get its next tranche of bailout loans

Jose Manuel Barroso is heading to Athens for talks on Thursday amid concern over whether Greece has done enough to get its next tranche of bailout loans

Inspectors from the EU and the IMF are trying to work out whether or not Greece has done enough to receive its next tranche of loan money.

The European Commission says the country’s financing needs will be met in August, but a decision on further payments will have to be made in early September.

Without sufficient progress, it may not receive the final part of its bailout worth 31.5 billion Euros ($38 billion).

Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said Greece would suffer a much deeper recession than thought this year.

He expects the economy to shrink by 7%, greater than the 5% forecast by the crisis-hit country’s central bank.

Antonis Samaras said Greece would not return to growth until 2014.

He is expected to ask for more time to repay its loans.

Jose Manuel Barroso’s visit is overdue as Greeks often complain about European political leaders who spend plenty of time talking about them, and not much talking to them.

The Commission president is unlikely to be out and about shaking hands, but at least he will be in Athens to speak directly to the Greek people.

Jose Manuel Barroso’s spokesman said the purpose of his visit was “to meet Antonis Samaras and discuss the overall economic situation in Europe and in particular in Greece”.

He said it was “a regular meeting” and that the preparation for the talks had been “under discussion for some time”.

 

 

World leaders meeting at a G20 summit in Mexico have urged Europe to take all necessary measures to overcome the eurozone debt crisis.

They voiced unease over what one top official described as “the single biggest risk for the world economy”.

But European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said “the challenges are not only European, they are global”.

Sunday’s victory of a pro-bailout party in the Greek election did not give stock markets the expected boost.

Antonis Samaras, the leader of the New Democracy party that narrowly won the poll, is holding urgent talks to form a coalition.

Antonis Samaras also reiterated that he would seek changes in the terms of a bailout agreement reached with the EU and IMF.

While Europe is clearly the big danger, there are also problems elsewhere in the world’s major advanced and emerging economies, starting with the two largest national economies, the US and China.

The slowdown in India is something else for the G20 to fret about at the Mexican resort of Los Cabos.

World leaders meeting at a G20 summit in Mexico have urged Europe to take all necessary measures to overcome the eurozone debt crisis

World leaders meeting at a G20 summit in Mexico have urged Europe to take all necessary measures to overcome the eurozone debt crisis

A draft of the statement to be released on Tuesday is expected to call for a coordinated global plan for job creation and growth, reports say.

And if growth weakens, the proposed document says, countries without heavy debts should “stand ready to co-ordinate and implement discretionary fiscal actions to support domestic demand”, according to Reuters.

In a separate development, China pledged $43 billion to the IMF’s crisis-fighting fund.

The move comes after a meeting of the Brics group of emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The five nations all offered to increase their contributions to the IMF in exchange for greater influence in the organization.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks on the sidelines of the summit, urging an immediate end to violence in Syria.

In a joint statement following their first meeting since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency, they said they shared a belief that Syrians should determine their own future.

The two countries have been at odds over how to resolve the crisis.

On Monday, many world leaders expressed alarm in Los Cabos at what they saw as a lack of progress in dealing with the eurozone crisis.

World Bank chief Robert Zoellick said: “We are waiting for Europe to tell us what it’s going to do.”

Meanwhile, Jose Angel Gurria, the Mexican head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said the crisis was “the single biggest risk for the world economy”.

Pascal Lamy, the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), warned about the danger of contagion from the eurozone crisis.

He said that global volatility and uncertainty was fuelling a trend towards protectionism, which was not only stalling free trade but starting to reverse it.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called on eurozone leaders to make structural changes to solve the debt crisis.

But Jose Manuel Barroso mounted a strong defense of the EU’s handling of the crisis so far.

“Frankly, we are not coming here to receive lessons in terms of democracy or in terms of how to handle the economy,” he told reporters.

He added that he expected G20 leaders to “speak very clearly in favor of the approach the EU is following”.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for rules to allow protectionism for countries facing a financial crisis.

“It is time to stop pretending and come to an honest agreement on the acceptable level of protectionist measures that governments can take to protect jobs in times of global crisis,” he said.

“This is particularly important for Russia as our country will join the WTO this year and we intend to take an active part in the discussions on the future rules for global trade.”

US President Barack Obama had earlier talked about the importance of avoiding protectionism, which is the process of making imports more expensive to protect domestic jobs.

 

Ukraine denounces a threatened EU boycott of next month’s Euro 2012 football championship as “destructive”.

In a statement, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said the move would undermine the image of the tournament and be detrimental to millions of Ukrainians and Poles.

Poland – which is co-hosting Euro 2012 – has also criticized any boycott.

Several European leaders are considering cancelling their trips to Ukraine, in protest over the treatment of jailed former PM Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yulia Tymoshenko, who is on hunger strike, alleges she was beaten by prison guards.

The statement from the Ukrainian foreign ministry said sport events were designed to bring unity, and criticized what it said were attempts to politicize them.

“We view as destructive attempts to politicize sporting events, which since ancient times have played a paramount role in improving understanding and agreement between nations,” the statement said.

“A successful championship will be a victory not for politicians, parties or ideologies, but for all Ukrainians and Poles. Its failure will be a loss for millions,” it said.

Ukraine denounces a threatened EU boycott of next month's Euro 2012 football championship as "destructive"

Ukraine denounces a threatened EU boycott of next month's Euro 2012 football championship as "destructive"

Austria has said it will boycott all the matches in Ukraine, while the Netherlands said it will not attend unless Yulia Tymoshenko’s treatment improves.

On Thursday, EU officials said European Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso would not be attending.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also reported to be considering boycotting the event, while the UK says it is undecided on whether to attend.

Meanwhile, five European presidents – from Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Slovenia – have said they will not attend a Ukrainian summit of Central and East European leaders next week in Yalta.

In an attempt to ratchet up the pressure further, Germany earlier said the EU is prepared to delay a trade agreement with Ukraine.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that “with our EU partners we are unanimous that the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine cannot be ratified as long as the rule of law in Ukraine does not develop in the right direction”.

But Ukraine’s deputy prime minister has said Euro 2012 is on track and UEFA – European football’s governing body – had not complained.

“The tournament is ready and on 11 May we will be transferring the control of the four stadia to UEFA.”

Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, was jailed last year for abuse of office, in a trial condemned by the West as politically motivated.

She is an arch-rival of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych, who beat her to the presidency in February 2010, avenging his defeat in the 2004 Orange Revolution.

The opening games of the month-long Euro 2012 will be played on 9 June.

 

The European Commission warns Hungary that it faces legal action if it fails to change reforms to its central bank, data protection and judiciary.

Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban was given a month to respond, Reuters news agency reports.

Critics say the new central bank law puts the bank’s independence at risk. It allows Viktor Orban to install a new deputy governor.

Viktor Orban’s conservative Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority in parliament.

The European Commission launched an “infringement procedure” against Hungary on Tuesday, the first stage of which is a warning calling for changes to the controversial laws.

“We do not want a shadow of doubt on respect for democratic principles and values to remain over the country any longer,” Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

There are fears that a new data protection authority will come under Fidesz influence and that a plan to make hundreds of judges retire early will undermine the judiciary’s independence by enabling new pro-Fidesz appointees to replace them.

The European Commission can go as far as imposing fines and taking Hungary to the European Court of Justice.

Thousands of Hungarians have demonstrated over what they see as Fidesz authoritarianism. A new media authority set up by Fidesz is also highly controversial.

The changes are part of a new constitution which took effect on 1 January.

Viktor Orban says the criticisms are politically motivated. He argues that partisan bickering has for too long handicapped Hungarian politics and that the last vestiges of communist influence need to be rooted out.

Correspondents say a compromise may be found because Hungary is struggling to service its debts and wants to reach a new deal with the EU and International Monetary Fund on a standby loan.

Hungary’s total debt has risen to 82% of its output, while its currency, the forint, has fallen to record lows against the euro.

The EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, Olli Rehn, has already warned that Hungary could face a suspension of EU cohesion funds – support for regional projects.

Nearly a year ago a row between Hungary and the Commission was defused when Viktor Orban’s government agreed to amend the wording of the new media law, in the sections on balanced reporting, country of origin and media registration.