EU states push for June start to Ukraine membership talks

Several EU countries on Tuesday called for the bloc to start membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova in June, but Hungary threatened to throw a spanner in the works. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 May 2024
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EU states push for June start to Ukraine membership talks

  • To actually begin the negotiations the bloc’s member states still have to sign off on a formal framework for the process
  • At a meeting in Brussels, France’s EU affairs minister Jean-Noel Barrot called for “the effective opening of negotiations“

BRUSSELS: Several EU countries on Tuesday called for the bloc to start membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova in June, but Hungary threatened to throw a spanner in the works.
The 27-nation EU took the landmark step in December of agreeing to open talks on its war-torn neighbor — and fellow ex-Soviet state Moldova — joining the club.
But to actually begin the negotiations the bloc’s member states still have to sign off on a formal framework for the process, proposed in March by Brussels.
At a meeting in Brussels, France’s EU affairs minister Jean-Noel Barrot called for “the effective opening of negotiations” before Belgium’s rotating presidency concludes at the end of June.
That statement was echoed by other ministers — including from Ireland and Sweden.
The push to move Ukraine onto the next step in its quest for EU membership comes amid fears that Hungary, the friendliest country with Moscow in the bloc, could stall progress when it takes over the presidency after Belgium.
Budapest has been hostile to Kyiv’s bid to join, arguing that Ukraine is getting pushed ahead in the queue without meeting the required criteria.
“There can be no exception on the basis of political or ideological considerations,” Hungarian minister Zoltan Kovacs said.
“There is very little, if any, progress. Again, I can repeat to you that membership, approval should be a merit based process. No exceptions.”
Another possible hurdle could come from a new right-wing government being formed in The Netherlands opposed to any new enlargement of the bloc.
Ukraine applied to join the EU shortly after Russia launched all-out invasion in February 2022.
Starting the negotiations would put Ukraine still only at the start of what is likely to be a years-long process of reforms before it can finally become a member.


Biden’s reelection team launches $50 million ad campaign targeting Trump before the first debate

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Biden’s reelection team launches $50 million ad campaign targeting Trump before the first debate

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign said Monday it will spend $50 million through the end of June on a new ad campaign that includes efforts to spotlight Republican Donald Trump’s felony conviction.
The costly advertising push comes with Election Day still more than four and a half months away. But Biden’s campaign says it wants to more clearly define the choice between the two candidates ahead of the first debate between them in Atlanta on June 27.
A central part of Biden’s campaign strategy is highlighting Trump’s far-reaching policy proposals for a second term and firing up disaffected Democrats and independent voters. The campaign producing an ad that leans heavily into Trump’s conviction, and including it in such a large advertising buy, indicates a renewed effort to make Trump’s legal problems an election issue in ways Biden’s team previously resisted.
The new ad campaign includes more than $1 million geared toward media reaching Black, Hispanic and Asian American voters, and an ad highlighting Trump’s conviction on 34 felony counts in a New York hush money case. That spot will air on general market television and connected TV on streaming devices and cell phones in battleground states, as well as on national cable.
In addition to Trump’s criminal conviction, the ad, titled “Character Matters,” notes the former president also was found liable for sexual assault and financial fraud in separate proceedings. Trump also faces felony charges in three separate criminal cases, none of which may go to trial before the November election.
“This election is between a convicted criminal who’s only out for himself and a president who’s fighting for your family,” intones the ad’s narrator over images of a Trump mug shot and Biden high-fiving supporters.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment Sunday night. But Trump has denied any wrongdoing and argued without evidence that Biden or Justice Department officials orchestrated the New York case against him for political reasons. He and his allies also have raised the prospect of prosecuting political opponents in revenge if he returns to the White House.

China says G7 statement ‘full of arrogance, prejudice and lies’

Updated 35 min 1 sec ago
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China says G7 statement ‘full of arrogance, prejudice and lies’

  • Summit statement said China was sending dual-use materials to Russia which were helping Moscow’s war in Ukraine
  • China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said the statement had ‘slandered and attacked China’

BEIJING: China hit back on Monday after G7 leaders warned Beijing to stop sending weapons components to Russia, saying their end-of-summit statement was “full of arrogance, prejudice and lies.”
When Group of Seven leaders met last week in Italy, souring trade relations with Beijing as well as tensions over Ukraine and the South China Sea were a focus of their discussions.
The statement released at the end of the summit said China was sending dual-use materials to Russia which were helping Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Using stronger language than at last year’s summit, the G7 statement also criticized China’s “militarization, and coercive and intimidation activities” in the South China Sea.
On Monday China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said the statement had “slandered and attacked China.”
It had “rehashed cliches that have no factual basis, no legal basis, and no moral justification, and are full of arrogance, prejudice and lies,” he said at a regular press briefing.


EU leaders gather to discuss nominees for bloc’s top jobs

Updated 17 June 2024
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EU leaders gather to discuss nominees for bloc’s top jobs

  • The June 6-9 elections saw the European Parliament shift to the right
  • Under the EU’s treaties, their choice should take into account the results of the election

BRUSSELS: The 27 leaders of the European Union gather in Brussels on Monday evening to take stock of recent European election results and begin the fraught process of dividing up the bloc’s top jobs, but they will be playing their usual political game with a deck of reshuffled cards.
The June 6-9 elections saw the European Parliament shift to the right and dealt major blows to pro-European governing parties in Paris and Berlin. The Franco-German motor that usually propels EU politics along was weakened, and new dynamics could be on show at the informal dinner.
Under the EU’s complicated division of powers, the presidents and prime ministers get to nominate the next head of the bloc’s powerful executive branch, the European Commission, which is responsible for drawing up EU policy on everything from climate to the colossal shared budget.
Under the EU’s treaties, their choice should take into account the results of the election.
German conservative Ursula von der Leyen looks likely to stay on as president for another five years after a strong showing for her center-right European People’s Party parliamentary group.
In an interview with Germany’s Welt TV on Saturday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said “it is clear after the results of the elections that everything indicates that there can be a second term in office for Ursula von der Leyen.” He said he believes the top job nominations could be agreed “quickly.”
Von der Leyen, at the helm of the EU since 2019, led a huge drive during the pandemic to secure billions of COVID-19 vaccine doses, set up a historic post-pandemic economic recovery fund and, from 2022, drummed up support for Ukraine in its war with Russia and extended a hand to Kyiv to join the bloc.
But nothing is guaranteed. Von der Leyen’s presidential style has at times riled her commission colleagues, and she is deeply unpopular in some corners of the EU Parliament, where she will need the support of 361 of the 720 lawmakers to hold on to her job.
The other big posts up for grabs are that of European Council president, held by Belgian centrist Charles Michel, and EU foreign policy chief, occupied by Josep Borrell of Spain from the center-left. The council president’s job is to broker deals between the 27 member states, while the top diplomat represents the EU on the world stage.
In Brussels, names for the big posts have circulated for months. Portuguese Socialist Prime Minister António Costa is frequently mentioned to become council president. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, well known for her tough line on Russia, has been floated as the bloc’s potential top diplomat.
French President Emmanual Macron said the aim Monday is “to try to have a quick consensus. But perhaps we need to wait until June 27-28,” when the leaders meet again in Brussels for a formal EU summit.
“I don’t want to preempt things,” Macron said on Saturday. “These discussions are happening with 27 of us, so we have advanced, several of us have called each other, and I think it’s possible. I think it’s possible in the days to come, or in the week to come.’’
Von der Leyen’s own path to power in 2019 shows that the tussle over EU top jobs can be unpredictable. Then a German defense minister somewhat tainted by scandal in her ministry, von der Leyen was a relative unknown in Brussels when her name was raised by leaders in closed-door discussions.
Back then, the support of her close ally, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Macron helped her clinch the nomination. Given the current balance of power in Europe, it’s hard to imagine Macron and Scholz pulling a major surprise this time.
Scholz is licking his wounds after his Social Democrats took a drubbing, while Macron is tied up with the snap elections he called last week in a risky bid to see off the far right.
In a secret ballot in 2019, von der Leyen made it over the line with 383 votes, nail bitingly close to the threshold of 374. She was an unpopular nominee because she had not campaigned in elections as a lead candidate and was seen as being imposed on Parliament by the leaders.


Denmark aims to limit shadow fleet of Russian oil tankers

Updated 17 June 2024
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Denmark aims to limit shadow fleet of Russian oil tankers

  • Russia sends about a third of its seaborne oil exports, or 1.5 percent of global supply, through the Danish straits

COPENHAGEN: Denmark is considering ways to limit the passage of old tankers carrying Russian oil through the Baltic Sea, the Nordic country’s foreign minister said in a statement on Monday, in a move that could trigger confrontation with Moscow.
Russia sends about a third of its seaborne oil exports, or 1.5 percent of global supply, through the Danish straits that sit as a gateway to the Baltic Sea, so any attempt to halt supplies would send oil prices higher and hit the Kremlin’s finances.
Denmark has brought together a group of allied countries evaluating measures targeting the so-called shadow fleet of aging ships transporting the Russian oil, Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said.


NATO in talks to put nuclear weapons on standby, Stoltenberg tells UK’s Telegraph

Updated 17 June 2024
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NATO in talks to put nuclear weapons on standby, Stoltenberg tells UK’s Telegraph

  • Jens Stoltenberg tells paper there are live consultations between members to use transparency around its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent
  • ‘Transparency helps to communicate the direct message that we, of course, are a nuclear alliance’

LONDON: NATO is in talks to deploy more nuclear weapons, taking them out of storage and placing them on standby, in the face of a growing threat from Russia and China, the head of the alliance said on Monday.
Jens Stoltenberg told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that there were live consultations between members to use transparency around its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent.
“I won’t go into operational details about how many nuclear warheads should be operational and which should be stored, but we need to consult on these issues. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” he told the paper.
“Transparency helps to communicate the direct message that we, of course, are a nuclear alliance.”
“NATO’s aim is, of course, a world without nuclear weapons, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, we will remain a nuclear alliance, because a world where Russia, China and North Korea have nuclear weapons, and NATO does not, is a more dangerous world.”
Stoltenberg said last week that nuclear weapons were NATO’s “ultimate security guarantee” and a means to preserve peace.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned that Moscow could use nuclear weapons to defend itself in extreme circumstances. It accuses the US and its European allies of pushing the world to the brink of nuclear confrontation by giving Ukraine billions of dollars worth of weapons, some of which are being used against Russian territory.
NATO, which has taken on a greater role in coordinating arms supplies to Kyiv, rarely talks about weapons publicly, although it is known that the US has deployed nuclear bombs to several locations in Europe.