Insults, slammed fists: EU virus summit goes into 4th day

Insults, slammed fists: EU virus summit goes into 4th day

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French President Emmanuel Macron, center, leaves the European Council building in the early morning during an EU summit in Brussels, Monday, July 20, 2020. Leaders from 27 European Union nations met throughout the night Sunday to assess an overall budget … more >

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By Raf Casert and Mike Corder

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — Weary and bleary, European Union leaders were gearing up Monday for a fourth day of fighting over an unprecedented 1.85 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund, barely recovered from a weekend of walkouts, fists slamming into tables and insults.

With a brilliant sun warming the negotiating sundeck at the Europa summit center early Monday, there finally was a glimmer of hope that the talks to help the continent emerge from the pandemic through an unprecedented economic aid package are not doomed after all.

“It looks more hopeful than when I thought during the night: ‘It’s over,’” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the target of much of the criticism. The meeting — one of the longest-running ever in the bloc’s history — broke up temporarily and is due to resume on Monday afternoon.

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“All want a solution instead of shelving the problem,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. Alluding to the infighting, he added, “It also shows: massive efforts are needed to make Europe strong again together. The corona pandemic shocked all of us.”

It took a heart-tugging dinner speech by EU Council President Charles Michel about leaders not failing their union, French President Emmanuel Macron slamming his fist in anger into the table, and a new set of budgetary numbers to send this epic summit onward.

It was planned as a two-day summit scheduled to have ended Saturday, but there are deep ideological differences between the 27 leaders forced the talks into two extra days.

Rutte, defending the cause of a group of five wealthy northern nations – the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Denmark – sought to limit costs and impose strict reform guarantees. He came under criticism from Macron, Italy and Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban asked why the Dutchman had such “hate” toward him.

Rutte took it in stride.

“We are not here because we are going to be visitors at each other’s birthday party later. We are here because we do business for our own country. We are all pros,” he said.

On Sunday night, after three days of fruitless talks and with hope dimming, Michel implored leaders to overcome their fundamental divisions and agree on the budget and recovery fund.

“Are the 27 EU leaders capable of building European unity and trust or, because of a deep rift, will we present ourselves as a weak Europe, undermined by distrust,” he asked the leaders. The text of the behind-closed-doors speech was obtained by The Associated Press.

“I wish that we succeed in getting a deal and that the European media can headline tomorrow that the EU succeeded in a Mission Impossible,” Michel said.

The pandemic has sent the EU into a tailspin, killing around 135,000 of its citizens and plunging its economy into an estimated contraction of 8.3% this year.

The bloc’s executive has proposed a 750 billion-euro coronavirus fund, partly based on common borrowing, to be sent as loans and grants to the countries hit hardest by the pandemic. That comes on top of the seven-year 1 trillion-euro EU budget that leaders had been haggling over for months even before the pandemic hit.

Even with Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel negotiating as the closest of partners, the traditionally powerful Franco-German alliance could not get the quarreling nations in line.

At their dinner table Sunday night, the leaders mulled a proposal from the five wealthy northern nations that suggested a coronavirus recovery fund with 350 billion euros of grants and the same amount again in loans. The five EU nations – nicknamed “the frugals” – had long opposed any grants at all, while the EU executive had proposed 500 billion euros.

“We are ready to take the leap from loans to subsidies,” Rutte said.

All nations agree they need to band together but the five richer countries in the north, led by the Netherlands, want strict controls on spending, while struggling southern nations like Spain and Italy say those conditions should be kept to a minimum.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said negotiations are at a “delicate moment” but that Spain still expects that an agreement that will set new foundations for the bloc will be achieved. Speaking to Cadena SER radio in an interview Monday, she said that Spain is open to a plan that comes with strings attached.

“We do not reject conditionality and we do not reject that there is good governance that offers trust,” she said. “What we do want is for that to have a framework, a framework that offers trust, clarity and transparency, which is the basis of a family’s relationship, same as the relationship within the European Union.”

Rutte has long been known as a European bridge builder, but this weekend his tough negotiating stance was being blamed for holding up a deal. He and his allies have been pushing for labor market and pension reforms to be linked to EU handouts and a “brake” enabling EU nations to monitor and, if necessary, halt projects that are being paid for by the recovery fund.

“He can’t ask us to do specific reforms,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, complaining Rutte may look like a hero in his home nation, but nowhere else.

Rutte also wants a link to be made between the handout of EU funds and the rule of law – a connection aimed at Poland and Hungary, countries with right-wing populist governments that many in the EU think are sliding away from democratic rule.

That drew Orban’s anger.

“I don’t know what is the personal reason for the Dutch prime minister to hate me or Hungary, but he’s attacking so harshly and making very clear that because Hungary, in his opinion, does not respect the rule of law, (it) must be punished financially,” Orban said.

____

Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands. Samuel Petrequin and Aritz Parra contributed from Brussels, Madrid.

EU leaders extend summit as they haggle over budget, virus

EU leaders extend summit as they haggle over budget, virus

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Saturday, July 18, 2020. Leaders from 27 European Union nations meet face-to-face for a second day of an EU summit to assess an overall … more >

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By RAF CASERT and MIKE CORDER

Associated Press

Saturday, July 18, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union leaders on Saturday extended their summit by an extra day in the hope they were finally closing in on a deal for an unprecedented 1.85 trillion euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund.

A deal was still far off, but several key nations said negotiations were at least heading in the right direction despite anxieties that were running high after months of battling the pandemic.

Heading into a balmy summer night, those tensions were showing when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron got up and walked out of a meeting with the so-called Frugal Four group of wealthy northern nations that want to limit grants and impose strict conditions on mostly southern nations that have suffered most from the pandemic.

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“A few people ran off,” acknowledged Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is considered the leader of the Frugals. When asked if it was Merkel and Macron, he said: “Yes, precisely. So we didn’t get a breakthrough tonight.”

The Franco-German alliance is seen as key to any major deal within the 27-nation EU.

When asked what he thought, Rutte said: “They run off in a bad mood. We will continue tomorrow.”

It was typical of two full days and almost two full nights of discussions by EU leaders, oscillating between raw irritation over how the huge sums should be spent and what strings should be attached and a glimmer of hope that somehow a deal could materialize – if not this weekend, then at least within a few weeks.

“Things are moving in the right direction,” said Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. “It it is of course, as you would expect, a tough struggle, a tough negotiation, but we’re moving in the right direction, and that is the most important thing.”

Rutte showed some hope, too. “The fact that we continue talking shows we all have optimism. But if we will succeed, we have to wait and see.”

The leaders are dealing with their toughest crisis in years, one that has burdened the bloc with its worst recession ever. The pandemic has sent the EU into a tailspin and around 135,000 of its citizens have died from COVID-19.

The EU executive has proposed a 750 billion-euro fund, partly based on common borrowing, to be sent as loans and grants to the most needy countries. That comes on top of the seven-year 1 trillion-euro EU budget that leaders were fighting over even before the virus slammed their continent.

Despite the urgency and seriousness of the crisis, there were deep rifts between some richer nations in the north, led by the Netherlands, which want strict controls on spending, and struggling southern nations like Spain and Italy, which have been especially hit hard by the pandemic and are looking for as much help as they can get.

Michel’s latest proposals reduced the proportion of grants in the rescue package and raise the proportion of loans that would have to be paid back, in an apparent enticement for the Frugals.

But the issue of how to track the rescue money remained the key sticking point, Rutte said. Michel proposed a measure that would stop short of allowing any country a veto on how governments spend the money and Rutte said that was still up for discussions Sunday.

Kurz said major issues still under discussion include linking rule of law guarantees in EU nations to the allocation of funds to member states. Hungary has threatened to veto any such move.

____

Associated Press writer Raf Casert reported this story in Brussels and AP writer Michael Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands. AP writer Angelas Charlton in Paris and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

___

Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Cool plan: Study says better aircon can slow global warming

Cool plan: Study says better aircon can slow global warming

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Plastic-bottled soft drinks are displayed in fridges at a store in Yokohama, near Tokyo, June 17, 2019. A U.N.-backed report claims making air conditioners and fridges more energy efficient and using more climate-friendly refrigerants can significantly slow global warming. (AP … more >

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By

Associated Press

Friday, July 17, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – Making air conditioners and fridges more energy efficient and using more climate-friendly refrigerants can significantly slow global warming, according to a U.N.-backed report released Friday.

The report published by the U.N. Environment Program and the International Energy Agency claims greater efficiency and the replacement of harmful refrigerants could prevent the equivalent of four to eight years of current global greenhouse gas emissions over the next four decades.

Demand for cooling appliances is predicted to almost quadruple by 2050 as the planet heats up and more people need air conditioners. But cheap devices often consume a lot of electricity that’s generated from coal or gas-fired power plants, which in turn fuel global warming.

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“Air conditioning is a two-edged sword,” said Durwood Zaelke, a U.S.-based environmental lawyer who contributed to the report. “You need it because the world is warming, but it contributes to warming unless you make it super efficient.”

Another problem with cooling devices is that many still use hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, a group of potent but short-lived greenhouse gas. Experts say banishing them is one of the fastest ways to curb global warming – up to 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.

In 2016, countries negotiated a binding treaty to phase out HFCs known as the Kigali Amendment – tacked onto the highly successful Montreal Protocol that helped repair the ozone hole. But major polluters such as the United States, China, India and Russia have yet to ratify it.

Even countries that have ratified the treaty struggle to crack down on illegal refrigerants smuggling. Earlier this month, the European Union’s anti-fraud unit OLAF announced that the Netherlands had seized 14 metric tons of HFCs – with a potential environmental impact equivalent to 38 return flights from Amsterdam to Sydney.

The authors of the new report call for “national cooling action plans” that include minimum energy performance standards and clear labeling of devices to help consumers choose the most efficient and climate-friendly refrigerants.

They also urge governments to promote ways of reducing the need for refrigerants, with energy-efficient buildings, tree-planting to cool cities and district-wide cooling systems.

A further upshot of more efficient air conditioners, according to the 48-page report’s authors: trillions of dollars in electricity cost savings by mid-century.

___

Report: http://www.unep.org

Dutch government to take Russia to European court over MH17

Dutch government to take Russia to European court over MH17

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FILE – In this Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 file photo, Australian and Dutch investigators examine a piece of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane, near the village of Hrabove, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. The Dutch government is taking to Russia … more >

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By MIKE CORDER

Associated Press

Friday, July 10, 2020

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – The Dutch government is taking Russia to the European Court of Human Rights for its alleged role in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine six years ago, the foreign minister announced Friday.

The move is intended to support individual cases being brought to the European court by relatives of some of the 298 people who were killed when a Buk surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by pro-Moscow Ukrainian rebels blew the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight out of the sky on July 17, 2014.

“Achieving justice for 298 victims of the downing of Flight MH17 is and will remain the government’s highest priority,” Foreign Minister Stef Blok said. “By taking this step today … we are moving closer to this goal.”

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By launching the case against Russia, the Dutch authorities can share evidence with the Strasbourg-based European court so it can be considered in individual relatives’ cases.

“As a government, we have information, evidence, that leads us to the conclusion of the involvement of the Russian Federation,” Blok told The Associated Press. “Of course, the relatives themselves do not have all this information so we can help them by starting this procedure.”

Moscow has repeatedly denied involvement in the downing of the Boeing 777. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia sees Friday’s announcement “in connection with the disaster of the Malaysian Boeing as another blow to Russian-Dutch relations.”

Throughout the case, the Netherlands has acted “exclusively within the framework of anti-Russian logic, to which both technical and criminal investigations were subordinated,” Zakharova said.

However, an international team of prosecutors investigating the case has, however, charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with involvement in bringing down the plane and the murder of all on board. The men are on trial in a Dutch court, although none have been extradited to the Netherlands to face justice.

Blok said much of the evidence the government will submit to the human rights court also is part of that criminal case.

Prosecutors say they have evidence the missile that blew MH17 out of the sky was trucked into Ukraine from a Russian military base and the mobile launcher was later returned to Russia.

The Russian foreign ministry didn’t immediately react. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russia’s parliament, called the Dutch move “a strange initiative from every aspect” in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency.

“The investigation isn’t over yet, there have been no court verdicts on the national level yet and, finally, what does the European Court for Human Rights have to do with it?” Kosachev said.

Friday’s move is the latest legal maneuver by the Dutch government, which has long vowed to secure justice for victims and their loved ones. Separately, the government is pursuing Russia for state responsibility in the downing.

“The government attaches importance to continuing the meetings with Russia on the matter of state responsibility,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “The purpose of these meetings is to find a solution that does justice to the enormous suffering and damage caused by the downing of Flight MH17.”

Blok said the twin legal tracks are headed toward the same goal.

“From the onset, we have made clear that the downing of an airplane, civilian airplane, and 298 innocent casualties is such a severe breach of international law that we will pursue any venue to find the truth and bring justice to the relatives,” he said.