Saturday, October 18, 2008

Brussels sees dawn raids to break human smuggling ring

The police raided 19 houses in Brussels's Vilvoorde region including Gurudwara (Sikh Temple) and Tubize (just outside Brussels).

The Sikh community expressed outrage at the handling of the affair at the Sikh Temple, alleging that the police went in with shoes on and forced the reader of the Holy Book to abandon the continued recital that was going on to observe 300 years anniversary of the Holy Book.

On the other hand, at other places the raids yielded some major suspects according to reliable sources.

The police also found at least 200 people who are in Belgium illegally and living in inhuman conditions. They were shacked up in safe houses, used as places of hiding for many illegals. In one house in Brussels 24 people were packed into a room of 12 meters-squared according to Information received by VRT television.

Today's roundup is the result of an investigation of almost a year. A network of traffickers in humans is thought to have been operating in Belgium for the past year and a half. Hundreds of illegal immigrants from India and Pakistan have allegedly been smuggled through Belgium into the UK. The traffickers allegedly made hundreds of thousands of Euro so far. The investigation into the network started after a couple of human traffickers operating from India were arrested. It became clear that there is a huge demand for illegal immigration from Asia.

People are willing to pay enormous amounts of money to the smugglers: and it ranges from 5000 Euro to 8000 Euro. The gangs in Belgium are operating from parking lots along the motorways.The candidate refugees are loaded on to lorries going into the UK. The lorry drivers are reportedly offered huge amounts of money to take the illegal migrants across the borders into the UK.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Europe gears up for global financial overhaul at Brussels Summit

European Union leaders last week stayed on track of the expected policy of agreeing to nod the financial package through but postponed the final agreement on climate change policy to the December Summit.

With the global economic slowdown feeding the gathering clouds of recession over national finances, French President Nicolas Sarkozy goaded the EU leaders not only to endorse the emergency measures for now but also got the mandate to address the long-term reforms for the international financial institutions. France holds the rotating EU Presidency for the second half of 2008 till the end of December.

In addition, the EU leaders endorsed a EU immigration package and put on hold the restart of frozen trade and partnership talks with Russia.


The Council conclusions called for “rigorous implementation by financial institutions of recommendations on the transparency of their commitments and risks,” to maintain “confidence in the financial and banking system and protecting the interests of depositors and investors.”

After the Summit, Sarkozy told journalists that all 27 EU leaders had agreed to back a plan to shore up the banking sector agreed to earlier by non-Eurozone EU member United Kingdom and the 15 Eurozone EU countries that use the Euro. The measures include increasing a guarantee on European bank deposits to be implemented within the next 12 months.

Coming down heavily on the company executives in the financial system, “particularly the banking sector,” the Council emphasised, "The real performance of company executives should be reflected in their remuneration including their severance pay (“golden parachutes”), which should be in line with their actual contribution to the success of the company.”

The Council reiterated the call to save the common citizen, “(The European Council) calls for speedy decisions on the development of European rules on the security of deposits to ensure that savers are protected,” adding that the European Commission’s forthcoming legislative proposal are in the need for a “speedy examination.”

Making an explicit mention of the European car industry to be given EU support to develop cleaner technology, Sarkozy called on EU governments to forge a common economic policy, saying: "If we can find a coordinated response to the financial crisis, why not find a coordinated economic policy?"

Addressing journalists Sarkozy asked: “Does economic policy need the same coordination as the financial crisis? From this presidency’s point of view: yes, yes, yes. Is that unanimous? For the moment: No, no, no.”

His observations were reflected in the final conclusions as the EU leaders asked the European Commission to “make appropriate proposals by the end of the year, in particular to preserve the international competitiveness of European industry,” adding, “continued structural reform is more important than eve, to help restore growth and improve employment in Europe.”


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pushed the Council to shift gears to the second stage of overhauling the global financial institutions and French President as the Chair got bestowed with admiration as Sarkozy was handed an EU mandate to press for a complete overhaul.

"We do not have the right to miss this opportunity for reconstructing our system of finance in the 21st century," Sarkozy said. "We have a mandate now to discuss this with the President of the United States."

Europe's proposed solutions will be discussed with US President George W Bush on Saturday (October 18) and with Group of Eight and Asian leaders in a special summit which Sarkozy said he hoped would take place some time in November.


The Summit formally approved a European Pact on Immigration and Asylum which was earlier adopted by the Justice and Home Affairs Council of Ministers on September 25. The commitment came with the worsening situation in the Mediterranean Sea belt area especially on the shores of Malta, a small EU island member state where there is a regular influx of migrants from North Africa.

Defining the aim of the Pact, the conclusions said, “The Pact will henceforth form the basis, for the Union and its Member States, of a common immigration and asylum policy, guided by a spirit of solidarity between Member States and cooperation with third countries.”

Acknowledging that the burden of asylum-seekers entering the bloc should be shared out among member states, the EU leaders said in an annex to the Pact, “For those (EU) member states which are faced with specific and disproportionate pressures on their national asylum systems, due in particular to their geographical or demographic situation, solidarity shall also aim to promote, on a voluntary and coordinated basis, better reallocation of beneficiaries of international protection from such member states to others.”

"In accordance with those principles, the (European) Commission, in consultation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ... will facilitate such voluntary and coordinated reallocation," they added. 


British Premier Brown with the help of Poland, Sweden, Denmark, the Baltic states and the Czech Republic kept the lid on the frozen negotiations with Moscow on a the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). The EU had suspended talks in September after Russian military engagement with Georgia in August caused deep unease in some of the EU capitals especially ones that are former Soviet Union states.

"All 27 EU member states welcome the withdrawals, while recognizing that they do not completely finish Russia's commitment under the peace plan of August 12," said British Foreign Minister David Miliband.

The official conclusion document read, “The European Council is asking the Commission and the Council to continue a full in-depth evaluation of EU-Russia relations with a view to the forthcoming summit, scheduled to take place in Nice on 14 November,” adding, “it will be taken into account in the further negotiations for a new Partnership Agreement with Russia.”

According to French sources, Paris along with the tacit support of Rome and Berlin had hoped to announce the resumption of the talks at the Brussels Summit.


The lingering question of Lisbon Treaty again came up for discussions. Speaking to journalists, Sarkozy announced a need for him to make another trip to Dublin adding that in December "I should be able to put on the table a proposal concerning Ireland."

As the Council took note of analysis presented by Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen over the rejection of the EU's reforming Lisbon Treaty, Cowen told journalists that EU legal experts have now been drafted to help break the deadlock, saying, “The presidency has asked the (European) Council legal services to engage with us to see what can be achieved.”

Asked whether Dublin would eventually hold a second referendum on the ratification of the Treaty, Cowen replied, "you are asking me to anticipate the process that we are now engaged in." Recalling that Irish voters needed two referendums before finally approving the EU's preceding Nice Treaty in 2002, Cowen said, “We had a referendum on the last occasion obviously.”
In its conclusion, the Council, “agreed to return to this matter at its meeting in December 2008 with a view to defining the elements of a solution and a common path to be followed.”


Last but not the least, the Council approved the composition of a twelve-member group with Chairman Felip Gonzalez Marquez, former Spanish Prime Minister and two vice-chair, Varika Vike-Freiberga and Jorma Ollila. Other nine members of the group are Lykke Friis, Rem Koolhaas, Richard Lambert, Mario Monti, Rainer Munz, Kalypso Nicolaidis, Nicole Notat, Wolfgang Schuster and Lech Walesa.

Conceived by Sarkozy, the reflection group is assigned the task to look into the EU future in the time zone of 2020-30 and is expected to submit its report in 2010, starting work in early 2009.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Polish President Kaczynski gate-crashes at Brussels EU Summit

Poland was in the news at Brussels European Union Summit on Wednesday-Thursday (October 15-16) but for wrong reasons as the journalists waiting for press conferences (which were delayed as usual) were amused by Polish leaders doing their pranks abroad.

“Prime Minister Donald Tusk went to Brussels to defend important Polish interests while President Lech Kaczynski - as a troublemaker,” Polish media summed it all in one line.

There was serious discussion about future of capitalism at the emergency EU Summit while the former Communist regime of Poland was immersed in petty squabble of who will “officially” hijack “official aircraft” to Brussels.

Round one went to Premier Tusk as he commandeered the Government's sole available executive jet and then refused to let the aircraft fly back to Warsaw where President Kaczynski, the President, was waiting for a ride to Brussels.

Kaczynski, never easy to give up in his pursuits, chartered another aircraft, landed in Brussels but was aghast to find that the official chair was already occupied by arch-rival Tusk. Before the situation could boil down to fists in grand order, Jacek Rostowski, Polish finance minister, official occupant of second seat, acted in a gentleman way, giving his seat to the angry and tired President.

“We are gentlemen, we will not have a scuffle,” he said, conceding that the situation had become “serious and dangerous”.

Till last year, this was not a major issue as then the President's identical twin with near-identical conservative views, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, was Prime Minister.

Finally came the blame game as Radoslaw Sikorski, Polish Foreign Minister called it an “unprecedented situation,” lamenting, “The President has made our task much more difficult as our partners now have no clarity about our position.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Kosovo precedent: Barroso dismisses, Saakashvili calls it an excuse

Kosovo’s independence was called as a special case by the Western powers while Russia had warned it as a dangerous “precedent” earlier this year but European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Tuesday (October 14) dismissed Moscow’s “Kosovo” comparison with the “South Ossetia and Abkazia,” as baseless.

Addressing a joint press conference in Brussels, along with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Commission President Barroso said, “From the start, we’ve said that Kosovo cannot create a precedent. We don’t believe that any parallels should be drawn between the situation in Kosovo and the Georgian regions.”

Answering a question from New Europe on the subject, the Commission President said, “Developments have confirmed this. Kosovo has been recognised by a large number of countries in the world, the overwhelming majority of EU member-states, many outside Europe ... while no-one important in the world has recognised the Georgian regions.” Barroso added that the EU would not allow the “red line“ to be crossed, which was full respect for Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty

Stressing the difference between the two cases, Georgian President Saakashvili told journalists, “NATO came to Kosovo to prevent ethnic cleansing while Russia came to Georgia to commit ethnic cleansing.”

Russia launched an offensive against Georgia on August 8 to push back a Georgian offensive to retake South Ossetia from Moscow-backed separatists and Moscow recognised the regions as independent states following the five-day war.

Moscow said it was protecting Russian citizens in the region from Georgian aggression, but Tbilisi accused Moscow of “ethnic cleansing” of the region to cement control over the disputed parts.

Commenting on their first face-to-face talks slated for Wednesday, since Russia invaded Georgia in early August, Saakashvili said, “First Russia has to get out of there, they have no right to be there with tanks and troops,” adding, “We would be more than happy to cooperate with any community, any representative but not in this kind of situation.” He accused Russia of “setting up illegal bases, illegal checkpoints and they are basically making fun of international law and international justice.”

President Saakashvili branded representatives of Georgia’s rebel regions “ethnic cleansers” and casting doubt over whether international talks with Russia would be successful. “We don’t think these people are politicians, we think they are ethnic cleansers and we think they are criminals,” he said.

EU needs Russia

On the question of restarting negotiations with Moscow on a new partnership deal, President Barroso said that it was not "a gift for Russia" from the EU, adding that for the EU, there were financial, investment and economic interests to negotiate with Russia on a new Cooperation and Partnership Agreement.

Citing sectors like fighting climate change and maintaining energy security as major points of cooperation, Commission President said, “I think it is in the interest of the EU to keep the dialogue with Russia to promote stability in Europe.”

Since the unilateral declaration of independence in February this year, the EU has tried to avoid parallels between Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkazia, saying Kosovo is "unique" with 20 out of 27 EU states recognised the unilateral declaration without an EU mandate.

Although Russia has withdrawn from most of Georgia in line with an EU-brokered ceasefire, Tbilisi is furious at the continuing presence of 7,600 Russian troops in the Georgian rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Europeans say No to cloning for food

Europeans are against animal cloning for food production revealed a survey on Thursday (Oct 9) in Brussels. The study presented by the European Commission found that more than 58 percent Europeans across the European Union are against the animal cloning for food production but 44 percent gave a nod to cloning to preserve rare animal species while 41 percent thought that it may be justified to improve the robustness of animals against diseases.

With 86 percent of respondents sharing the opinion that the food industry would ultimately benefit if animal cloning for food production purposes was allowed while more than 40 percent stated they are "not at all likely" to buy food derived from cloned animals (43 percent) or from offspring of cloned animals (41 percent).

Amongst other issues, almost four out of 10 of those asked (38 percent) believe that none of the potential benefits presented to them (health or economic) would justify breeding cloned animals for food production. Out of those believing that there are benefits to animal cloning, 54 percent expressed the opinion that the procedure might help solve the worldwide food problems. However, 54 percent and 44 percent of the respondent felt that animal cloning would ultimately not benefit either consumers or farmers.

European Commissioner for Health Androulla Vassiliou commented: "The survey provides us with valuable insights into the attitudes of EU citizens toward the use of animal cloning technology for food production. The European Commission has now before it the opinions of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Group of Ethics (EGE) and also the Eurobarometer survey.”

In July, the European Commission received the scientific opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on cloning and earlier this year, the European Group of Ethics (EGE) delivered its opinion on the same subject. EFSA's report gave rise to increased concerns on aspects of animal health and welfare and the EGE raised ethical concerns.


Replying to a European Parliament call last month, “to submit proposals prohibiting (cloning of animals) for food supply purposes,” the Health Commissioner said, “The Commission will now proceed with the analysis of these elements before considering whether and what action may be necessary."

In a debate the European Parliament last month called for a ban in the EU on the cloning of animals for food supply. MEPs also urged an embargo on imports of cloned animals, their offspring and products derived from these sources.

"Not only is it a case of food safety, we in Europe believe that we are producing food quality products", EP Agriculture Committee Chairman British MEP Neil Parish said. "It is also a question of animal welfare and consumer confidence" and there is a "risk of producing less strong and healthy animals.”

Parish said: "Cloning entails serious health and welfare problems for clones and their surrogate dams; animal health problems come from invasive techniques required to produce a clone; there is the suffering of surrogate dams which carry cloned foetuses, and high levels of ill health and mortality in early life for cloned animals. I call on the Commission to submit proposals prohibiting the cloning of animals in the food supply and the placing of cloned animals on the market in meat and dairy products."

EU, CoE join hands against death penalty

The European continent got together on October 10 to reiterate its commitment to work towards the universal abolition of the “Death Penalty” punishment. On the occasion of the World and European day against the death penalty, European Commission Vice President Jacques Barrot, Commissioner responsible for freedom, justice and security stated, “Europe has created a ‘de facto’ death penalty-free zone stretching from Iceland in the west to Vladivostok in the east and from Norway in the north to the south-east of Turkey – this is one of Europe's greatest achievements.”

"Nevertheless,” the Vice-President continued, "public debates within our societies demonstrate the need to reiterate, time and time again, that the abolition of the death penalty is an essential achievement for the respect for human dignity. This is the reason the European Commission works side by side with NGOs that are active in this field and supports abolitionist actions.”

European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner commented: "I am proud of the EU's leading role in the international efforts to abolish the death penalty. Although over half the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, the global figures for its use remain much too high.”

Recognising the “plight of victims of violent crime,” the Commissioner observed that the “death penalty is not the solution,” adding, “on the contrary, it only serves to aggravate a culture of violence and retribution. The Commission is determined to work towards the universal abolition of the death penalty through all available diplomatic channels and as a leading donor in this field.”

The President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering said: "The European Day against the death penalty is the day on which we remember that the defence of human rights and the necessity of a justice system which is based on the respect of human rights and the dignity of the human being, is an essential part of our common values.”

The death penalty is a breach of fundamental human rights and failure to respect the dignity of the human being and the right to life. The European Parliament will fight against the death penalty under any circumstances everywhere in the world."

Signing a Joint Declaration with the Presidents of the European Parliament, of the Council and of the European Commission, on the EU side, and by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, PACE President Lluís Maria de Puig said, "To die by order of the state, decreed by a judge or a politician as punishment for a crime, is thankfully a thing of the past in Europe.”

"But human dignity demands that we put our arguments to those who still carry out this practice. Once a year, we join with others across the world to press for a global moratorium on executions. The tide is turning and one day, I am sure, the death penalty will pass into history," PACE President added.

Abolition of the death penalty is a condition of membership in the 47-nation Council of Europe, where no executions have taken place since 1997, the statement noted.

During 2007, at least 1,252 people were executed in 24 countries, and at least 3,347 people were sentenced to death in 51 countries. 88 percent of all known executions took place in five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the US.