Western European News Digest
Labour Losses in By-Elections Could Hasten Blair Demise
On June 29, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party suffered devastating defeats in two by-elections, one in a London suburb and the other in Wales. As a result of the election losses, Blair himself is facing increased pressure to step down as Prime Minister. A majority of Cabinet ministers are said to believe that Blair will harm his reputation and the Labour Party if he carries on as leader past next spring.
The election disaster is also threatening Blair's policy on Iraq. Clare Short, who quit Blair's Cabinet in protest over the decision to go to war, is leading an insurgent grouping of 30 MPs from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats who have tabled an amendment requiring Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown to report to Parliament annually on the cost of maintaining British troops in Iraq. Short, the former International Development Secretary, had supported Brown to succeed Blair as Prime Minister, but withdrew her support after Brown backed a replacement for Britain's Trident nuclear submarine.
German Defense Minister Ends Military Privatization
Following the recent cancellation of contracts with the GEBB, a private company supplying the German armed forces with food, equipment, and non-food stuffs, Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung announced the reversal of planned privatizations of army real estate and administrative functions.
"For me, efficiency of the armed forces is the priority, rather than privatization for privatization's sake," Jung said, adding that privatization does not, as its advocates always claim, automatically imply less bureaucracy.
Germany Makes Relations with Eastern Europe a Priority
In a draft paper for the German EU Presidency, which will occur during the first half of 2007, the planning staff of the Foreign Ministry has proposed increased economic cooperation with Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung July 3. The success of that design, the paper rightly states, depends on close cooperation between Russia and the European Union, something which Germany definitely wants.
The FAZ leak leaves many questions unanswered, such as, how can one hope for positive economic cooperation under Maastricht conditions? But generally, the paper seems to be taking a step in the right direction.
Berlin Is Ideal Location for Air Freight to Asia
Rainer Schwarz, CEO of the FBS firm that runs the Berlin-Schoenefeld airport, spoke about Asian perspectives for air freight, in a June 30 interview with the Maerkische Allgemeine daily.
Schwarz spoke about the planned expansion of the Schoenefield airfield, pointing out that Berlin's location near Germany's eastern border offers airlines a route which is one hour shorter for flights to Asia. As round-the-clock operation at Schoenefeld is not possible, the expanded airfield there will not have the potential of becoming a major hub for air freight to Asia, Schwarz said; however, more air freight will be handled by Schoenefeld in the existing framework, because there is a demand for it.
Schwarz's arguments also apply to the idle airfield at Sperenberg, in south Berlin's, which could be renewed and revitalizedperhaps even in conjunction with Schoenefeld. The Asian air freight issue has received more attention recently, because of election campaigns in Berlin.
Is Someone Trying to Undermine German-Polish Relations?
A bizarre crisis which has developed in recent days between Poland and Germany indicates that there are people in the two countries, as well as third forces, who wish to sour German/Polish relations. The issue was that on July 3, Polish President Lech Kaczynski cancelled his attendance at three-way summit in Weimar, of the German, French, and Polish Presidents, reportedly due to illness. However, it was also reported in the Polish press that the President was personally offended by a satire which appeared in the Berlin daily Tageszeitung.
The Polish President's office a few days later compared the language of TAZ with the violently anti-Semitic Nazi-era paper Der Stuermer. In response, the German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said that the government will not react to press reports, and that Germany strives to have good relations with "our important and big neighbor." Meanwhile, Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga called for postponing a parliamentary debate on German-Polish relations, and eight former Polish foreign ministers have signed a letter to President Kaczynski criticizing him for cancelling the summit in reaction to the TAZ article.
Italians Arrest Two SISMI Officers in CIA Kidnapping
Three CIA agents and one other American are still being sought for the 2003 crime in Milan, run through the Aviano Airbase, in which an Egyptian national was kidnapped. The Italians were at the time the director of the international terrorism division of SISMI (Italian military intelligence), and the head of operations in the north. Press sources say their names are Marco Mancini and Gustavo Pignero.
Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had repeatedly denied that SISMI was involved in the kidnapping, and refused a demand that 22 U.S. officials be extradited to Italy. Prosecutor Armando Spataro says he will renew the request with the new Italian government.
Deputy PM Prescott Caught in Conflict of Interest
British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott may be forced to quit over the latest scandal involving his seven meetings with American billionaire Philip Anschutz, including a stay with several civil servants at the tycoon's ranch. The stay followed three months after Anschutz purchased the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, London with plans to build a supercasino there. In lieu of payment for the ranch stay, Prescott directed public money to a charity. A complaint about the stay and the meetings was lodged by the shadow Culture Minister Hugo Swire, and a preliminary investigation by Standards Commissioner Sir Philip Mawer has begun.
Prescott must enter his stay and meetings into the House of Commons Register of Members' Interests with the preliminary finding that there may be a conflict of interest involved. If the preliminary investigation finds intimations of wrongdoing, there may be a full investigation by the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee, which has the power to discipline Prescott by suspending him from the Commons for a number of days if he is found guilty of any wrongdoing. Prime Minister Tony Blair has so far backed Prescott 110%.
Valencia Metro Accident Is One of Spain's Worst
An underground train derailment in Valencia, Spain July 3, leaving 41 people dead and 47 wounded, is the worst in the country's history, El Pais reported July 4. While, from the official side, it is reported that it was probably an accident, the final investigations, including examining the black box, have to be completed. The train accident happened days before Pope Benedict XVI arrived for an official visit to Valenciathe Pope in fact arrived in Valencia on schedule, on July 8. However, public festivities which were planned, like the Pope's participation in the "Feria de las Familias" (Fair of the Families), will be cancelled.