Atlantic Update 06/03/11


Europe continues to battle E.Coli and Russia’s ban on EU vegetable imports. Mladic denies charges. After the Fukushima tragedy in Japan, Germany is giving up on its nuclear power plants by 2012 whereas Greece is at a 50:50 risk of defaulting according to Moody’s and recommended for another set of bailout package.


Bosnian Serb Genocide Suspect Mladic Faces UN Tribunal (Radio Free Europe)

Bosnian Serb wartime army commander Ratko Mladic has declined to enter a plea in his first appearance before a UN war crimes tribunal, dismissing the genocide and war crimes indictments against him as "monstrous words" and "obnoxious charges." Speaking during his arraignment hearing at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Mladic said he needs more than the 30 days that are allowed to enter a plea so that he can fully study and understand the charges.

"I would like to receive what you’ve read out just now — these obnoxious charges leveled against me," the 69-year-old Mladic, dressed in a gray suit and tie, told judges. "I want to read this properly, to give it some proper thought together with my lawyers because I need more than a month for these monstrous words — the ones that I’ve never heard before, those that were included in this indictment." Presiding judge Alphons Orie ruled that no good cause was shown to extend the deadline for Mladic’s plea beyond 30 days. Instead, Orie set July 4 as the date for Mladic’s next hearing. If Mladic refuses to enter a plea at that hearing, the judges will enter a not-guilty plea on his behalf.

Turkish Poll Could Result In All-Powerful ‘President’ Erdogan  (Radio Free Europe)

Last time out, it was about the power of civilian politicians versus the might of the military. This time, it has been about sex — at least superficially. In a lackluster encounter, the sex scandals that have engulfed a small nationalist party have provided a rare racy focal point in Turkey’s forthcoming parliamentary elections on June 12. Ten senior members of the right-wing Nationalist Action Party (MHP) were forced to resign in May following the publication of videos showing them engaged in activities not normally in the line of political duty. One was allegedly shown in flagrante with a 16-year-old girl.

Given the MHP’s relatively minor role in Turkish politics — it has 70 out of the parliament’s 550 seats — the incident appeared to hold no wider significance beyond its undeniable prurience. In fact, it has the potential to transform the country’s political landscape. Polls indicate that the fallout from the scandal could reduce the MHP’s vote from the 14 percent it won in the 2007 election. If it falls below the 10-percent threshold, it will mean the party gets no seats in parliament — thus making it easier for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) to secure the two-thirds majority it needs to write a new constitution.

Russia’s Libya Role Irks China (Asia Times) 

Russia went to the Group of Eight (G-8) summit meeting at Deauville last week as an inveterate critic of the "unilateralist" Western intervention in Libya, but came away from the seaside French resort as a mediator between the West and Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The United States scored a big diplomatic victory in getting Moscow to work for regime change in Libya. No sooner than he got back to Moscow, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered his special envoy to Africa Mikhail Margelov to travel to Libya "in the nearest time". Margelov is liked in the West and by Libyan rebels. He admitted, "Gaddafi’s future is the ‘most delicate topic’."

The Western version is that in the middle of the G-8 summit, Medvedev suddenly declared that "Gaddafi has forfeited legitimacy" and Russia plans to "help him go". But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted: "It wasn’t a Russian initiative. It was a request, an appeal from President Sarkozy, from President [Barack] Obama, from other participants." The Kremlin is obviously eager to inject a fresh lease of bonhomie into Russia’s "reset" with the US. Medvedev’s meeting with Obama at Deauville failed to resolve the differences over deployment of missile defense system in Europe. The Kremlin is uneasy that the West is coolly ignoring Russian protestations about the intervention in Libya and a growing discord with the US is the last thing Medvedev wants. 

Germans’ Deep Suspicions of Nuclear Power Reach a Political Tipping Point (The New York Times)

Shortly after the earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan in March, stores in faraway Germany began selling out of radiation-tracking Geiger counters. Sales of iodine pills to limit the absorption of radiation surged briskly, too, propelled by anxiety that people might find themselves engulfed in clouds of long-range radioactive fallout.

No matter that the incipient nuclear catastrophe was about 5,500 miles away, or that Germany, unlike Japan, did not lie on known tectonic fault lines. On the streets of major cities, hundreds of thousands of protesters, casting events in Japan as a portent of what might happen here, turned out ahead of state elections to demand a halt to Germany’s own nuclear power program, the source of nearly a quarter of the nation’s electricity. Those two intertwined phenomena — angst and electoral maneuvering — led to what seemed one of the most abrupt reversals of Angela Merkel’s years as German chancellor: On Monday, she abandoned plans laid only nine months earlier to extend the life of the country’s nuclear power stations and ordered instead that they be phased out by 2022.

E. coli: Europe lambasts Russia’s ban on EU vegetable imports (CS Monitor)

In a move to stop the spread of a new E. coli strain, Russia – the EU’s largest market for fresh produce – has banned imports of fresh vegetables from all European Union countries. The decision could further hurt European vegetable sellers, many of whom are already reeling from collapsed demand for their goods. The measure is designed to stop the spread of so-called EHEC bacteria, a strain of E. coli that has been found on vegetables in several European countries, but mainly in northern Germany. Within the last few weeks, 16 people in Germany and one in Sweden have died after contracting a syndrome associated with EHEC.

The EU called the Russian ban disproportionate. “The EU commission will write a letter to the Russian government, demanding an explanation,” said commission spokesman Frederic Vincent in Brussels. European fruit and vegetables worth €3 to €4 billion ($4.3 to $5.8 billion) are sold in Russia every year, making it the biggest market for EU fresh produce.

Greece recommended for next batch of bailout (Associated Press)

Greece is poised to receive the next installment of its bailout facility, and will likely get further rescue loans to prevent it from defaulting on its massive debts, European officials said Friday. Debt inspectors from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund said Greece should receive the next euro12 billion tranche of its existing euro110 billion bailout as long as additional austerity and privatization measures are deemed sufficient. Greece also had to accept unprecedented outside interference in the way it runs its government services. As the international debt inspectors concluded the near month-long mission in Athens, Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs the group of 17 eurozone finance ministers, said he expected Greece to get additional help, on top of the existing rescue loans, as long as it fulfills its promises.

Skopje authorities instigating ‘climate of fear’: leaked US cables (Euractiv)


Macedonia’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his inner circle are making systematic use of the state’s judicial and repressive apparatus to quell dissent, reveal US cables obtained by Wikileaks and made available exclusively to and US secret diplomatic cables seen by EurActiv and, a Bulgarian investigative journalism website, speak about Gruevski and his entourage from the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party instigating a climate of fear in the EU candidate country.

Poland vows to take up budget fight as EU president (Euractiv)


The EU’s next long-term budget for 2014-2020 will be at the centre of Poland’s EU Presidency during the second half of the year, with Warsaw eyeing a bigger share of EU spending, it emerges from the country’s programme, unveiled yesterday (31 May). Poland yesterday unveiled its priorities for the second half of 2011, when it takes over the EU’s six-month rotating presidency from current holder Hungary. The presidency programme, a five-page document, was adopted by the Council of Ministers yesterday (31 May) and was presented to the media in Warsaw by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

With the last couple of years focused mainly on rescuing the ailing banking sector and preventing a subsequent collapse of public finances, Poland now wants to put the onus on restoring growth. And the EU’s long-term budget for 2014-2020 is seen by Warsaw as the main tool to put Europe back on track.

Medvedev says heads may roll over arms depot blasts (Ria Novosti)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov to launch an investigation into two explosions at military arms depots and warned that dismissals may be necessary. An accident at an artillery depot in the Volga region republic of Udmurtia on Thursday that caused two deaths came a week after a similar incident at a base in the neighboring republic of Bashkortostan.

"Two times is already systemic. Prepare proposals for me about who must answer for this and how. Since they do not understand the nice way…it is necessary to take away their shoulder straps," Medvedev said, suggesting that officers could lose their rank or be dismissed. "Hold an investigation," Medvedev told Serdyukov. "Of course, a separate investigation will be carried by the Investigation Committee and other departments." The accident at the artillery depot near the village of Pugachevo in Udmurtia began at around 11:10 p.m. local time [19:10 GMT] on Thursday when the first shells exploded. The facility belongs to the Defense Ministry’s missile and artillery directorate and is tasked mainly with munitions disposal.

Greece default risk at 50:50 says Moody’s (BBC)

Moody’s cut its rating by three notches from B1 to Caa1 – just five notches short of default. The new rating means Greece is 50% likely to default on or restructure its debts in the next five years, according to Moody’s methodology. Meanwhile, Athens is completing the negotiations for drawing down the fifth tranche of its 110bn euro bail-out from the EU and International Monetary Fund. Last week, the chairman of the group of eurozone finance ministers, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that the IMF may not approve the latest cash advance unless Greece could convince them it will remain solvent over the next 12 months.

Latvia’s president fails in re-election bid (European Voice)

Valdis Zatlers to be replaced as president by Andris Bērziņš.
Valdis Zatlers, Latvia’s incumbent president, has lost his bid for a second term in office. The country’s parliament – the Saeima – has voted instead to support Andris Bērziņš, an ex-banker who is one of Latvia’s richest men. Zatlers will continue as president until 7 July and Bērziņš will be sworn in the following day. The election follows a bitter stand-off between Zatlers and the Saeima, after the president, who was nominated by a centre-right government in 2007 but is politically independent, sided with KNAB, the country’s anti-corruption agency, against the parliament. 


Escaping the Clutches of the Financial MarketsThe IMF: Time for a change (Spiegel)

In today’s Europe, the people are no longer in control. Instead, politicians have become slaves to financial institutions and the markets. We are partly to blame — and changes are urgently needed to nurse European democracy back to health. We are doing well. In fact, we’re doing splendidly. The economy is booming, with 1.5 percent growth in the first quarter. We are as prosperous as we were before the crisis, which has finally been overcome. Congratulations are in order for everyone.

The banks, Deutsche Bank above all, deserve particular congratulations. In the first quarter, it earned €3.5 billion ($5.1 billion) in pretax profits in its core business, and by the end of the year the bank will likely report a record €10 billion in pretax profits, its best results ever. That number is expected to rise to €11 billion or even €12 billion in two or three years. Less than three years after the peak of the crisis, it seems as if it never happened. That is true of the economy, but it also true of us as economic subjects. But is that all we are? No, we are also citizens and participants in a democratic society. As such, we have no reason to be celebrating. Instead, we ought to be sad and outraged. Democracy, after all, is not doing splendidly, or even well. It is gradually becoming a casualty of the financial crisis.


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