Thursday, 14 June 2018: Scottish government criticised over Freedom of Information delays, EU unveils defence fund for post-Brexit era, EU calls US tariffs on Spanish olives protectionism, Italy summons French envoy in migration row


Scottish government criticised over Freedom of Information delays: SNP ministers have been operating a secret two-tier regime that makes it harder for journalists and opposition MSPs to obtain embarrassing documents under the Freedom of Information Act, an official inquiry has concluded. Scottish Information Commissioner Daren Fitzhenry discovered evidence in previous years that journalists were significantly less likely to receive information than members of the public. He found that requests tabled by reporters, MSPs and their researchers were often subjected to additional levels of clearance involving ministers or their special advisers. The government welcomed the report which it said highlighted „significant improvements“ in its FoI service. MSPs have previously called for a „wholescale review“ of the Scottish government’s freedom of information policy.,

Minister accuses Bercow of making sexist comments: Conservative minister Claire Perry has accused John Bercow of making sexist comments about her after he told her to avoid dilation in the Commons. Claire Perry, the energy minister, has written to the Speaker accusing him of having a “woman problem” and complaining of his “overly aggressive” comments to her. She said she decided to make her complaint public after her colleagues highlighted Bercow’s approach to her in the House. Comments „about me being dilated“ had caused „surprise and dismay“ among MPs from all sides, she said. A spokeswoman for Bercow said he often used the word in the context of trying to speed up Commons business. The word dilated is commonly associated with childbirth, being the moment when a pregnant woman’s cervix opens up sufficiently to allow labour to take place. But dilated can also be used to refer to someone „speaking or writing at length“ on a subject.,

MPs condemn Home Office deportation threats over taxes: Immigration minister Caroline Nokes has been accused by MPs of either not having a grip on her department or being recklessly incompetent for allowing the use of counter-terrorism powers to force the removal of highly skilled migrants from the UK over their taxes. In a Westminster Hall debate called by the SNP’s Alison Thewliss, MPs spoke about constituents including teachers, doctors, lawyers and engineers who are facing expulsion from the UK under paragraph 322(5) of the immigration rules for making minor and legal amendments to their tax records. This was highly inappropriate, calculated decision-making, said Thewliss, the MP for Glasgow Central. None of those whom she had spoken to have any issues which would cause them to be considered a threat to national security.

Windrush scandal: MPs call for urgent hardship fund for victims
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Grenfell Tower fire: Silent vigil, prayers mark one year since London’s deadly Grenfell fire


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EU unveils defence fund for post-Brexit era: For the next long-term EU budget 2021-2027, the EU Commission is proposing to increase the EU’s strategic autonomy, bolster the EU’s ability to protect its citizens and make the EU a stronger global actor. A 13 billion euro defence and security fund aims to support the EU’s efforts to integrate militaries – plans that were long blocked by Britain because it feared the creation of an EU army – and defend against Islamic militants and a resurgent Russia. It will also provide the financial firepower for cross-border investments in state-of-the-art and fully interoperable technology and equipment in areas such as encrypted software and drone technology. Separately, the Commission also proposed a 10.5 billion euro European Peace Facility to fund EU military missions abroad. The money for the EU fund will come from the bloc’s common budget, split between 4 billion euros for research and 9 billion euros for developing prototypes that would be the basis for new hi-tech uniforms, drones, radars, ships and aircraft. Under the plan, the fund would cover 20 percent of the military development costs, meaning EU governments would also put forward money to raise the overall size of the fund.,

EU calls US tariffs on Spanish olives protectionism: The EU Commission has sharply criticised the United States’ conclusion that Spanish olives should face import duties because they are being sold far too cheaply and benefit from unfair subsidies. In the latest twist in a growing transatlantic trade conflict, the US Commerce Department announced on Tuesday that Spanish exporters were selling olives at 16.88-25.50 percent below fair value and with subsidies that would need tariffs of 7.52-27.02 percent to counteract. The Commission said that neither the decision nor the process leading to it were justified. The EU said the decision by the US to impose unreasonably high and prohibitive duties anti-subsidy and anti-dumping duties on Spanish olives was simply unacceptable.

Dutch PM doubles down on smaller EU budget: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte reiterated his vision for the EU on Wednesday: a smaller budget, stricter rules and — above all — less lofty ambition. In a speech to MEPs in Strasbourg, Rutte warned that the EU should send a message to the world that it firmly believes in multilateralism, free trade, and that member states stand as united as ever. Since the start of his third term as prime minister in October, at the head of a broad four-party coalition, Rutte has positioned himself as a counterweight to French President Emmanuel Macron. He has pulled together a makeshift alliance of like-minded, spendthrift northern countries to serve as a break to the French president’s reformist agenda, particularly on the eurozone. Rutte also criticised proposals for greater military integration, said that Bulgaria and Romania were too corrupt to join the Schengen area and declared his support for EU action against Poland over its controversial reform of the judiciary.,,

Verhofstadt threatens to take Council to court: The EU Parliament debated the priorities for Europe on Tuesday, ahead of a crucial EU summit due on 28-29 June. Migration and the reform of the Dublin regulation was a highlight of the discussions, with Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian PM and leader of the liberal ALDE group, declaring: „If EU leaders fail to agree to reform our common European migration and asylum system during the next Council meeting, we have to bring the Council to Court under article 265 of the Treaty for ‘failure to act’.“ Article 265 of the Lisbon Treaty states that the member states and the other institutions of the union may bring an action before the Court of Justice if a body, an office or an agency of the EU fails to act after being called upon to act. The parliament said it was high time the EU leaders agreed on a common position on the Dublin system in order to find a genuine solution to the migration crisis.

US wants North Korea nuclear disarmament by 2020: The United States hope to see major disarmament by North Korea by the end of 2020, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday. Pompeo, travelling in Seoul after two days in Singapore for President Donald Trump’s historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, declined to offer further clarity on a timetable for Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear programme, a step Trump said this week that he believes North Korea is willing to negotiate towards. The secretary of state also said there will be in-depth verification of the denuclearisation process, rebuffing critics of the joint statement signed by Trump and Kim that was light on details relative to timeline, process and verification of North Korea’s disarmament. Earlier Wednesday, Trump wrote online that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat to the US after his meeting this week in Singapore with Kim, adding that Americans should “sleep well tonight.”,

Debt relief: Greece says decisions on new bond issue after June 21 Eurogroup
Renovation: European Parliament delays decision on future of Brussels building
EU farmers boss: DG Agri ‘not properly consulted’ in biofuels talks
Yemen: Saudi-led forces begin attack on Yemen port city, ignoring UN warnings


This is not about immigration, this is an exceptional situation.
Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo has emphasised that the rescue of 629 refugees aboard a ship in the Mediterranean was a legal duty that Spain could not and did not want to avoid.


Italy summons French envoy in migration row: Italy summoned France’s envoy on Wednesday and rejected French criticism of its immigration policies. A day after French President Emmanuel Macron said Rome had acted with cynicism and irresponsibility by closing its ports to the „Aquarius“ migrant ship, Italy’s economy minister cancelled a Paris meeting with his counterpart, and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte weighed postponing a meeting with Macron scheduled for Friday. France said it has received no formal request from Italy for an apology, and that it believed the planned meeting between Macron and Conte would go ahead. Meanwhile, a convoy containing hundreds of migrants rescued by the „Aquarius“ is en route to Spain. Separately, an Italian coastguard ship with 937 migrants on board is returning to Sicily while another rescue vessel, the Sea Watch, is refusing to take on passengers picked up by the US Navy without a guarantee that Italy will allow them to disembark.,

French parliament approves SNCF reform bill: France’s parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill overhauling the indebted state-run rail company SNCF on Wednesday. The 452 to 80 vote in the National Assembly, where President Emmanuel Macron’s Republique En Marche party has an absolute majority, was largely a formality after a committee of the lower house and the Senate agreed joint amendments to the legislation on Monday. The Senate upper house will approve the bill on Thursday. It represents the most fundamental reform of the 150,000-strong SNCF since rail nationalisation in the 1930s, and Macron has overcome a challenge that defeated previous administrations.

Spanish minister resigns after just six days in office: Spain’s culture minister Maxim Huerta resigned on Wednesday following local media reports that he had avoided paying taxes while working as a TV journalist 10 years ago. Huerta, who was named to the cabinet of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez last week, said he had paid a fine related to his declared income in 2006 and 2008, and was innocent. Huerta added that he was fully up to date with his tax payments. „El Confidencial“ newspaper had reported that Huerta had been found to have avoided paying tax amounting to more than 200,000 euros. Sanchez toppled his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, in a confidence vote over a long-running corruption scandal.

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EU countries to probe Poland over rule of law: The EU agreed Wednesday to launch hearings later this month into fears Poland is breaching the independence of its courts. The EU Commission said it had asked the 28 member states to hold a formal hearing after Poland’s rightwing government had failed to allay its concerns. Poland has not addressed the key concerns of the Commission over the independence of courts, the First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans said on Wednesday, adding he would travel to Warsaw for talks next week. Timmermans said amendments introduced by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to its reforms of the judiciary were not enough and the reforms still posed a risk of undermining the democratic division of powers, a core European value.,

Georgia’s prime minister Kvirikashvili resigns: The Republic of Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili resigned Wednesday amid a disagreement with Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party. Different points of view had been outlined between him and the ruling team, specifically concerning the economic policy pursued by the government under his leadership, said Kvirikashvili at a special briefing held at the government administration on Wednesday. Ivanishvili, former prime minister and the country’s richest man, resurfaced in politics in May when he became leader of the Georgian Dream party. Kvirikashvili’s entire cabinet is required to vacate their posts upon the prime minister’s resignation, as dictated by the Georgian constitution. This means the ruling party, Georgian Dream, will now draft a list of new cabinet members within seven days. A wave of anti-government rallies started in late May as a protest against the guilty verdict of two young men suspected of killing two teenagers in December. Dozens of anti-government protesters were arrested on Monday.

Macedonia: President says won’t approve name deal with Greece

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Scottish lawmakers walk out of UK parliament in Brexit row: Lawmakers from the Scottish National Party (SNP) walked out of the British parliament on Wednesday to protest what they say is Scotland’s voice being ignored over Brexit. The SNP’s leader Ian Blackford was thrown out of the chamber by the speaker of parliament because he refused to sit down after demanding a new debate on Scotland and Brexit. Blackford said it could no longer be business as usual between Holyrood and Westminster after what he described as a power grab by the government was passed after just 15 minutes of debate. Prime minister’s questions descended into pandemonium after SNP MPs followed Blackford and walked out en masse as part of a protest over the lack of time given to the debate on devolution issues connected to Brexit. The SNP says it will now seek to build a new power-sharing deal for Scotland, Brexit minister Michael Russell told Reuters.,



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